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IFH 634: Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films with Austin Trunick

Austin Trunick is a Connecticut-based film historian and author of The Cannon Film Guide, a series of books about the beloved (and infamous) ’80s b-movie studio, Cannon Films. He also serves as an editor for the nationally-distributed music and entertainment magazine.

Under the Radar. He has written about movies and pop culture for Mental Floss and Consequence of Sound.

Enjoy my conversation with Austin Trunick.

Austin Trunick 0:00
Both those deals fell apart. Cannon suddenly didn't have the money to shoot them and ever Pune comes up with the idea to let's try to recoup what we spent already. Like, I will write a movie that uses the sets we built, the half built sets from Spider Man and the costumes and everything and the actors we've already gathered here for mass universe to yes,

Alex Ferrari 0:25
This episode is brought to you by the best selling book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome to the show, Austin Trunick, How you doin Austin?

Austin Trunick 0:40
I'm doing very well. Thank you for having me on Alex.

Alex Ferrari 0:42
Thank you for coming on man. I you know, you reached out to me about your new book Hold on, I need to work out just to get this up. It's the Canon film guide, volume to 1985 to 1987. This out of all the guests that ever had. Yours is by far the thickest book I've ever had on the show. And this is, by the way, part two. So that means there's another part one, which is as big if not bigger than that. And for everyone listening if you're if you want to learn about canon, Canon films, the 80s amazing film studio, sit back and relax, because we're going to be talking about one of my favorite parts of the 80s in the 80s growing up, because I'm not sure if you know this or not awesome. But I worked at a video store in 88 to 93 I think I was going there to and I saw all of these boxes. And as I was skimming through because God I can't read it all. But as I was skimming through the book, I was like I saw that one. I saw that one saw that one. And if I didn't see the movie, I remember the cover and the boys were very good at putting the cover together. But if Alright, so for everybody listening, Austin. First question is, can you tell everybody what Cannon Films was? And why are we talking about them? All these years later? Because there's a lot of film studios that were around in the 80s. There was Orion Pictures there was you know, the new world new world, there's so many, you know, really great, but why is canon? What is canon? Why does it have this kind of grab on the zeitgeist, as you will?

Austin Trunick 2:28
Well, Canon is a company that as far as what we think about usually when people refer to as canon, they're looking at Canada in the 1980s. When it was under the command of two Israeli cousins, the producers named manakin, Golan and Yoram Globus who had bought the company in 1979, and started pumping out these films in 1980. And these started as really exploitation pictures, low budget, very low budget movies that they start out. But those snowballed really quick, the movies got bigger, they had some success, they were able to make basically bigger and better movies and more and more films. This was a company that very much recognized that there was a market especially at the time 1980 8182 market in the video stores, rentals were new home video, and there's a really a big space for content, they stores needed to fill those shelves, and Canon was happy to help do it. As well as cable cable had, especially premium cable had hours and hours of space to fill. So canon was a company that under golden GLOBIS would sell movies to these markets, primarily. Before they even made them they would take big books full of ideas, big spreads in Hollywood reporter and variety. And they would wait till enough companies had agreed to buy the movie, and they would go and make it. So this is a company that could make films very, very fast. And because of how they did the films, the quality wasn't always there. These weren't always great movies, but to say the least. But they were entertaining. And if you're a fan of especially B movies, a lot of a lot of great magic can happen when a movie is shot for half the budget it needs and half the time it needs. This was a company that could have an idea marketed at the Cannes Film Festival in May and habits in theaters that fall. So that was how quickly going and globalist worked. But people know them nowadays they remember them now for their their eight ninja films. They're 10 movies with Chuck Norris the eight movies they made or Charles Bronson discovering, discovering Michael Duda coffin John Claude Van Damme. These were guys who cannons bread and butter was this sort of low to mid budget action movie. And if you were in the video store, especially in the Action section, but really, oh, yeah, you couldn't go anywhere, edit videos or when probably when you worked there without being able to spin around and knock five or six canon boxes off of a shelf no matter where you were standing in the video store.

Alex Ferrari 5:01
It's pretty it's pretty remarkable what these guys did and you know, I think it was I don't know if I had I've had sand Sam fine Feinberg Furstenberg person Furstenberg on and Sheldon Letich on the show we've talked cannon in the past. But I think when we when I talked to with Sam, I think it was the kind of like he was we were talking about because he was there with the boys almost from the beginning. You know he was there with the ninja movies and all that kind of stuff, which we'll get into in a minute. But it was a perfect storm of these crazy guys making these crazy movies at a time when there's two new technologies coming on that needed content. And the studios were scared of VHS and home video for for probably a good five or six years that they weren't they weren't they didn't want to put anything on VHS and cable was like, What's this cable thing? I'm not sure all this stuff. So there was a hole that can and filled a lot of content in? And do would it be fair to say that once the Studios decided to come in and start flexing their muscle cannon kind of lost? Its it lost its marketplace couldn't do what it was doing in the early 80s? Because in the you don't hear about Canada in the 90s? You know, not really and then it obviously after the 90s you don't hear them at all, really? So what happens? What was the kind of downfall of of canon and why didn't it continue?

Austin Trunick 6:35
Well, Canon there were, again, a perfect storm of things going wrong. There were several factors that contributed to it. One was that their movies got bigger. And when you're spending 16 to 25 million on a movie that makes 5 million at the box office that that's what has trouble when you start making these $5 million movies that you pre sell for 10. It's they just got out of what they did very well. There was also a string of bad investments. Canon took a lot of money that they had earmarked was given to them to invest in films and they use that to buy 30 mi Elstree Studios, the studio where Empire Strikes Back and register the Lost Ark was shot and Canon only ended up shooting two movies there. But if you're a company that makes mid low budget Chuck Norris movies, I don't know what you need with the biggest production facility in London. But this they they made a lot of bad investments with with money that they should have spent on movies that that fit them very quickly. And then as you mentioned, and by the late 80s. The studios were no longer afraid of these formats. And when you're competing on the shelves with the studio action films with your your Dirty Harry's and your your other Clint Eastwood movies and lethal weapon and things like that that's suddenly one year low budget, low budget action film just just isn't going to compete, it isn't going to command the same same amount of real estate on a video store shelf or in cable rotation. So they really got kind of pushed out in those markets that they were early adopters early. One of the earliest studios to really embrace.

Alex Ferrari 8:21
Yeah, and it's it's it's interesting, because I was as I was scanning through your book I saw saw like two I think at least two Lethal Weapon rip offs. The one with Billy Dee Williams, and then and then there was the obvious Indiana Jones rip off with Richard Chamberlain. Have Firewalker with Chuck Norris and Louis Gossett, Jr, which is kind of like a mix. I guess if lethal weapon in Indiana Jones it was kind of like this weird. Hybrid. I mean, as I'm saying, It sounds awesome. As I'm talking about it out loud. I'm like, You know what, I think I should go watch Firewalker again, and then you watch it for 15 minutes you go. Oh, okay. I understand. I understand. I understand now. So. So the success that these guys had early on? Well, the big thing that they think will be on their gravestone is they brought ninjas into the mainstream. There was no talk of ninjas prior to I think it's it's not American Ninja, I think was revenge of the ninjas. And if I'm entered the Ninja, enter the ninja thing. Yes. Yeah, that was the first ninja movie that came in into American audiences. Because before that it was but it's so hard to tell people what an impact that was because I had a Ninja throwing star. I had a ninja outfit. I was sad Eight, seven. I was going to ninja stores where there were ninja like nunchucks and, and throwing stars and there was ninja schools. Like you could like you could go to a jujitsu school you can go to a ninja school and like, you know train in the dark. was like this. It was insane but this was all started by the cannon boys when they brought the world ninja and Ninja had been around for ever in Japan right i mean it's How long has it been like ninjas when did they first come into the into the world stage but it's it's a what like that 1000 years ago I can't remember anymore

Austin Trunick 10:19
Well before during the samurai period,

Alex Ferrari 10:22
Right exactly they were kind of like the more sneaky less honorable samurai

Austin Trunick 10:27
Guys you got to do the dirty work

Alex Ferrari 10:29
Right there's acids they were saying they were assassins so they brought ninjas into the world and can you explain to the audience what kind of I mean impact financially you know enter the ninja had to the point where they had and then you could tell me how many other ninja movies

Austin Trunick 10:45
Yeah well so ninja did Canada did two things with the ninjas that really I think led to this explosion this phenomena the ninja phenomenon are they a is that led you doing just a card with our shirts wrong and there was a they put dangerous front and center in memory. There had been a couple ninja movies, the Octagon Chuck's one of his early ones he fought them but they looked like you know bad guy martial arts and pajamas. They weren't the cool ninjas that we have in the 1980s them at the center, the middle awesome. They got show Kosugi to really come in. He was the guy who was an expert. It was a martial artist but an expert on ninjas and brought a lot of the tools a lot of the weapons a lot of his students to help on on these films and show Kosugi played the bad guy in an enter the Ninja. But so cool. The movie opens with showcase two gauges demonstrating all of these different Ninja weapons against that black screen. And really, it's the these are the weapons that we associate with ninjas. This this is something that to talk about the impact that entered the ninja had in 1981. Historically, a nunchuck talks are not something you would ever associate with ninjas before that that was not a weapon they would use that's not really a stealth weapon. But manakin Kalon the colorful head of Cannon Films The Director of enter the ninja had seen that in Enter the Dragon of course Enter the Dragon enter the ninja you can draw a little line there and he wanted nunchucks in his movie isn't even if they weren't historically accurate. So those became part of that film. And now you know any kid who grew up with Ninja Turtles and who loved Michelangelo was their favorite character. Ken thank manakin Golan for making turning nunchucks into one part of the ninja ninja can with a single end but the movie was did very well the sequel directed by our friend Sam first and Berg did even better and Canon continue really putting these outs as fast as they could Revenge Of The Ninja followed ninja three the domination

Alex Ferrari 12:54
Which is a classic I mean let's just throw it out there right and I know it's Quentin Tarantino is favorite one of his top three favorite a Cannon Films is is it's a three a Revenge Of The Ninja three whatever the hell the domination one Yeah, just like part Flashdance. Part exorcist part ninja movie.

Austin Trunick 13:15
Yeah, little bit of poltergeist sprinkle.

Alex Ferrari 13:18
A little bit of like, why not? That is just brilliant. But then what I found fascinating is that he's like, we need to throw an American in there. And he's like, You know what would be cooler than just having ninjas? Will have American Ninja that would be kind of cool. Like a white guy doing ninja stuff. And boy, was he right? I remember seeing American Ninja in the theater.

Austin Trunick 13:43
That's all I am. And American Ninja is a great film. It turned Michael Dudek off from being a you know a minor comedy actor. He had done bachelor party with Tom Hanks he was a friend that and Happy Days and and you can see I'm in minor roles in the early 80s. And then suddenly, he's an action star not the top tier you know he's not in the same as your Stallone or Schwarzenegger but in the video stores. People would you would he was a recognizable brand name by by the late 80s. And yeah, American inches are an example of cannon. I like to call it cannon magic. They took a relatively low budget but they shot this movie in the Philippines. They got a director like Sam Furstenberg who could work in the fast the fast limitations the low budget and great great stunt stunt choreographer just they really spent what money they had went onto the screen and it looked very cool American inches what what impresses me if this is a lot of the same crew since they shot in the Philippines that had worked on Apocalypse Now that we're trained for that movie had spent all that time three years Yeah, yeah. For three months yeah. had gone through that gauntlet of fire and Then we're sitting around and in the Philippines for a few years and got hired on these Chuck Norris movies on these ninja films over and over again in the in the mid 80s And if you look at any of those jungle movies that that cannon did primarily shot in the Philippines, they look good and a lot of it is because they have this this crew that was available that was well trained that could be hired for $1 Yeah compared to what in Hollywood would have cost much much more

Alex Ferrari 15:30
Yeah cuz they were they did the mission to the the missing in action series with Chuck Norris and and let's talk about Chuck because I mean, they did chuck to I'm trying to remember the chuck to any movies outside of cannon like um, because invasion USA and and the mission missing an action series and it was octagon

Austin Trunick 15:53
That was pre canon. So Chuck had done some movies in the late 70s and early 80s really low low budget martial arts pictures lower budget than canon, actually and but he was somebody he had, he was a former karate champion. At that point, he was well known as a pro owning karate schools and having this sort of a celebrity and I'm in the martial arts world. But he wanted to be an actor and you know, the his his early, independent productions did fairly, fairly decent for our first with the Grindhouse martial arts audience and venues that they played. But when he got to Canon, they took him he was, uh, you know, in his mid 40s At that point, right? And

Alex Ferrari 16:37
He was my god sakes is great. I mean, it was like, he's my age at this point. Yeah, he's

Austin Trunick 16:43
A middle aged, retired like ex karate champion. And canon turned him into a box office star. He had number one movies with missing an action and invasion USA for Cannon and other movies that were huge when they came out if if not Delta Force Delta four Delta Force was with Cannon. And it was it's something that, again, it wouldn't have. I feel like there are very few places that sort of magic could have happened other than a place that was run so fast and loose. And Chuck Norris is someone who won he came to Canada, he was in his mid 40s. He had several low budgets, moderately successful independent movies, but very small movies, martial arts movies, and as a 44 year old 45 year old karate champion instructor, he became a box office star. He had number one movies and missing an action and invasion USA and huge films like The Delta Force that came out with Canon. And again, this is a guy who was was pushing 50 By the time he really reached his peak at at Cannon.

Alex Ferrari 17:55
It's pretty remarkable too, because I remember like invasion USA, watching the invasion USA on HBO, or Cinemax or something like that. And all my family was watching a rat, like sitting around watching it. And it was like the coolest thing you'd ever seen in your life. It was just such it. I mean, but really, Chuck, you know, before there was before Ken and Chuck, and after Ken and Chuck, and after Kennett, Chuck, which is again, he's probably my age, at that point in his mid 40s. turned them into a complete movie star. And I don't know that Chuck. I mean, obviously, Texas Ranger was a it's a Monster Monster television hit after but this is years later, this thing that was in the 90s, if I'm not mistaken, when Chuck did that, and that was a good that was almost like a good retirement plan for Chuck. Because he just went off. He's like, Oh, good. I want to stay this one location. I'll just keep shooting these things. And they went on for like, what a decade? I think that show went on for a decade or so.

Austin Trunick 18:54
Yeah. And that was actually produced by Canon television, the very first set of episodes, unfortunately, they were on their last dying gasp by the time that came out. Yeah. So that was really, again, something where if the dominant if the chips fell slightly differently, where we might still have a cannon today. But Walker, Texas Ranger came out just really as they were barely hanging on to

Alex Ferrari 19:22
And if they would, Texas Ranger would have held them would have definitely held them together if they would have been able to hold on to it. But it's interesting. And it's it's a lesson for people listening because they view the VA veered away from what made them successful. They started thinking bigger and bigger, bigger because they're, I guess I'm assuming ego got into into place and like, I'm gonna buy L Street Studios, I'm gonna be as big as Warner Brothers. And I already saw, you know, you could start seeing it in the movies that they were attempting to make, you know, so like, you know, cuz I don't want to skim over these movies because they're such great amazing things. But so Superman for the quest for peace. Arguably just one of the most horrific things I've ever seen in my life. It's it's it's up there with the room. It is just one of those things you watch and you just like, what and I know Christopher Reeve only agreed to do it, because it was something to do about nucular. He wanted to have make a commentary about nuclear liberal affiliation and and how it needed to stop. And he had the he didn't direct it, but he had a lot of creative control over the project. Is that Is that a fair statement?

Austin Trunick 20:32
That's correct. Canon basically checked three boxes for Chris Reeve, who a few years earlier had gone on the record had gone every talk show saying he would never play Superman again. He backed out of his cameo in Supergirl movie even because he was so done with Superman, but they offered him creative control of the plot. He also got to direct some of the B unit some of the action scenes. They gave him a lot of money that that played into it, obviously. But they also they took on basically a pet project of his called street smart. Oh, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 21:07
I remember that was a good,

Austin Trunick 21:08
A great movie.

Alex Ferrari 21:10
A young Morgan Freeman or a young girl Morgan Freeman.

Austin Trunick 21:13
Yes. A 50 year old Morgan Freeman. Actually, his first Oscar nomination,

Alex Ferrari 21:19
How many hold his mortgage cheeses. I mean, he, he's God, He is God. He literally is God. He doesn't die. He's just there. It just keeps going and going. God bless his heart. No, because I remember him in streetsmart. And that was a dark, edgy film for Christopher Reeve at the time.

Austin Trunick 21:39
Morgan Freeman, I think ages one year for every 10 that actually passed years,

Alex Ferrari 21:45
Cat years, it's like cat years.

Austin Trunick 21:48
He streetsmart was a movie that Chris Murray wanted to be disassociated with Superman he was afraid of being only being seen as you know, this man and a cape and tights. And one of the one of the things he thought would get him away from that was having a critical and commercial success. That was something that was very different. So streetsmart was a role that there was a script that he'd had for a while and he took the cannon because he wanted to get it made. It's about a basically a journalist who lies about a story, he makes up his story in this magazine profile. And it leads to this sort of great success for me becomes a television reporter he gets his own new show. He is the talk of New York City. But it's all based on a lie. And it's a lie that closely resembles the story of the life story of a character played by Morgan Freeman, a pimp named fast black who is on on trial at the time for for homicide for killing somebody. And Morgan Freeman's character sees this as an opportunity to sort of give him an alibi. Use Christopher Reeves characters notes to give them an alibi. And it's a it's a great film about these two characters who are just sort of using each other. And they're both awful people. Christopher Reeve plays a character who could not be further away from Clark Kent, and they have the same profession, but one is just despicable. And the other one is this symbol of everything that is great and in humanity in our world. And it is a it's a movie that Canon made for a very low budget and was very well done. It was very well reviewed. And it's it won it earned Morgan Freeman his first Oscar nomination. I'm not sure offhand up out of how many but many, many Oscar nominations that have come since. But unfortunately, it came at a time where we're canon when they had a movie. That was good. I want to say good in the, I guess critical sense. That's good. It's getting record reviews. It's getting award spas and things like that Canon did not know really what to do with that. Right.

Alex Ferrari 24:01
They called the Weinstein's unlike the Weinstein's with Miramax. They knew what to do with that they built the whole their whole the 90s around. You know, in many ways I think Miramax is almost a sequel to Canon but a you know a higher quality sequel, bringing in foreign films and doing and you know, we'll do the disclaimer Harvey is an evil horrible human being but what that company did in the 90s cannot be ignored without question and I think it's almost like that because they knew exactly what to do. But and that's another thing is like we all make Hahaha You know Chuck Norris and ninjas and all that stuff, but they made some really good movies. Runaway train 52 pickup, fool for love, you know with Kim Basinger and Sam, Sam Shepard. I mean, then the list goes on. There's a bunch of great movies, right?

Austin Trunick 24:56
Yeah, this is a company that again, Canon there Written butter was these actions were these action movies, these ninja movies this Chuck Norris films, but they would take that money and they would channel it into a lot of times projects from great filmmakers, classic filmmakers who couldn't get them made elsewhere. And that's where you have people like Robert Altman approaching them for full for love. You have John Cassavetes coming to them to make love streams because no other studio wanted to invest right? The money

Alex Ferrari 25:27
And John Frankenheimer as well.

Austin Trunick 25:30
John Frankenheimer, who had had a hit a rough patch in his his career there and came to Cannon. And there are many examples of that runaway train was a script that had been written by Akira Kurosawa in the 60s and had been translated and floating around Hollywood for 10 years and more. And canon finally brought it to the screen that championship seasons a lesser known one from 1982. But it's a Pulitzer winning play by Jason Miller, who this is a movie that had been with every studio and the project kept falling through. And canon finally said, if you can make it on a Canon budget, we'll let you make it how you want it with with who you want in it, if this is the the amount of money that you have. So this is a company where not just filmmakers, but stars would we've had these sort of pet projects like like Raven streetsmart, and Katharine Hepburn and a project called Grace grace quickly that she'd been trying to get made since the 70s. They felt safe to bring these projects to Cannon, especially by at 345 when they really hit their peak. And Canada took chances, they took chances on on movies that really the studios would not. And because they were doing it on a budget, though, that's why they were doing it on a budget and they were pre selling it. They knew a star's name if they could sell Katharine Hepburn in a movie. Yeah, they could sell that around the world and they're they've made their money before it hit. You know, it went before the camera.

Alex Ferrari 27:03
And the studios weren't doing things like that because they didn't understand how to work in that kind of budget range. And I mean, when I think of cannon, I think of AFM I think of the Cannes Film Market. Those kind of that arena is not where the studios play. That's where the budget of the craft service table of the studio projects play. I mean, it just they don't understand how to make money in that world even to this day. You can you imagine. I mean, I've talked I've talked to filmmakers who did like how much did you make a movie before they go Yeah, I had I did a low budget movie was like only 10 million. I'm like 10 million Are you out of your like the rest of us live in a you know, sub 500,000 sub $100,000 budget world right now to make independent films. But it was so they were so smart that it looked like they were taking chances. But they these guys were really good businessmen until the ego ran away. And I think the one of the biggest. The biggest one, there's two that come to mind, Masters of the Universe, which is pure magic. absolute pure magic. If if no one's seen it, there's so much stuff going on there. It's like an onion. There's a lot of layers. Courtney Cox's in a Dolph Lundgren. Orko I mean, it's just all beautiful. And well over the top. So I'll take both of them one at a time. So over the top, ridiculous concept. Absolute absolutely ridiculous about an arm wrestling, single dad, who drives a truck, cross country and he's going to the armwrestling championship and he's trying to bring his son along. It sounds on paper horrible. And to be fair, it is in many ways, but to this young man. For years afterwards, when I would get serious I would turn my head around. No, that business was about to get done. If it just hits something so interesting in that that age group where because you look at it now you're like, Dude, seriously, if there's live like turn your head around and then that's where you get the extra force to beat whoever you're going against like it was just crazy. But from at the time from I think it was Sam who told me this was Sam Russia, a shell that forgot who it was. But they they wanted sly at the peak of slice power. I mean, you're talking about 85 and like it's you know, rocky three and Rambo and like he is the biggest star in the world. And they offered him I think they call them up and I think it was I forgot what the number was, but it was such a ridiculous number. That's still John said, Listen, if you pay me 12 million bucks, I'll do your movie. And they showed up which I think it's troubling you probably know better than I do. So please tell the story of of over the top, sir.

Austin Trunick 30:10
And yeah, totally That is correct. With $12 million. They made for a brief period of time, they made Sylvester Stallone, the highest paid actor for any one single, single film. And this was a project that I mean, Sly, supposedly, I guess he wanted to do it. It was something that's the original script he he liked. And it had sort of a at the time, he was kind of catching a lot of flack for Rambo toys being in store and his movies being so so violent, something that I thought he could point out and say, this family film that I've done, you don't have to take your kids who love me to go see Rambo, you could take them to see this. So that was that was his attraction to the project. Cannon they sold was the biggest star in the world really at that, at that very moment in in the 1980s. And especially for the types of movies that they they made. And they were willing to throw that much that much money at them. And it made a big, giant splash. This is something that as soon as Stallone agreed to it, Canon took out the two page ads in every trade. And they would say welcome Sylvester Stallone to the Canon family making over the top shooting soon. The problem was canon, this was not a company that had $12 million sitting around in cash, they they would usually take that money and they would make three ninja movies for that. So they actually in reality, this is this Stallone exclusive wisdom papers, they sent him $500,000 As a retainer as basically an option on on him doing this while they went out and then work their butts off to sell, get get the money, sell all the rights internationally sell the product placement, there's a wonderful amount of product placement of that film, from everything from car batteries to motor oil to brute cologne. It's everywhere in that movie. And then finally they ended up getting Warner Brothers to come in and help distribute the distribution. And with the distribution and also some of the financing. That $12 million is also what paid the loan for COBRA. A lot of people don't don't know that is that $12 million ended up being they ended up getting two pictures of its Warner Brothers

Alex Ferrari 32:31
Who di COBRA COBRA was in cannon, right? That was one of those deal.

Austin Trunick 32:35
That was Warner Brothers, but Canon has the Golden Globe as producers credit on it. And that is because of over the top Warner Brothers wanted to do Cobra Stallone was in line to do over the top with them. But when the steel they got Ken into Wait, push your shoot off seven, eight months. So we can shoot Cobra and we'll pay, you know, will this whole thing will pay this this amount. And we'll get it done. And you can have your movie afterwards. And over the top so fun movie like as a kid i i loved it as well. It was a movie. You know, I want to arm wrestle all the time on my desk at school. But the movie that Stallone actually had, I mean, I guess any movie stone is involved with he had a lot of inputs, but he took no pass at the script. So it's interesting to watch this. It changes greatly. And that final Stallone draft makes it even more of a family oriented movie, which is something I wouldn't expect. It's out a lot of the as your Assam there's more than the original scripts that stolen out of it, which is interesting. But also he he directed Menaka electric directed it and loan was there to advise and it still had a difference of opinion. They had an agreement, shoot it both ways. And Stallone got final choice of which version so they would read a lot of the scenes and to his credit though I can go on didn't have to go about that. He thought he's like this, Mr. Sloane, his movies have made how much of that he's directed. He's won Oscars. He's, he's very successful. If he advice I'm going to listen. What, how, how he's basically anyone asking him really like who was who was directing this. But they essentially code a lot of the scene. See in the action movie that makes armrests actually I think look kind of interesting. On screen for a that is really too large sweaty men grunting hands for about 30 seconds up makes it look like you know a rocky in the section.

Alex Ferrari 34:55
No, there's yeah, there's absolutely no question about it. You like that ends sequence is absolutely a brilliant piece of filmmaking, just the, you know, the lighting the way the skin like it was. I mean, they've used the star filter on it. So there's like the stars in the lights. And he, I mean, they did a lot. And as you're saying that that makes all the sense in the world that's like, would have just basically controlled control that film. There's just no, there's no question about it. And it is very family friendly. Like it's, it's about a kid and his dad, I mean that the movie is about a kid and his dad, that's basically what the movie is about. It has to do with arm wrestling in the background, but it's just, it's one of those was that the movie that started or wasn't Masters of the Universe is the one that really started the downward spiral of canon.

Austin Trunick 35:48
Either, it's really a two, three, because you have all in 1987, in this space of really six months, you have over the top, super more. And then masters universe, all three of these movies that Canon spent a lot of money on and there's of promotion, and they just they were not, they were not the gigantic kids that can and need them to be to really going at that point. So that was, that was when a lot of trouble really happened. I like to I like to look at and see look at the prices of stocks, Cannon stock of 1987. And then the really September of 87, it's gone from trading pretty dollars to like under $4.

Alex Ferrari 36:40
Was, was canon a public company.

Austin Trunick 36:43
They had a public sale in the six. So that was where a lot of this money that they spent on real estate Came From Beyond as well as like, basically promises of loans from banks.

Alex Ferrari 36:58
So going to Masters of the Universe, which was a monster budget for them and a big, just a huge, one of the big what was the biggest production they ever did? Was it over the top or was it Masters of the Universe?

Austin Trunick 37:14
Well, over the top would have been the highest budget and other one that was very close was lifeforce. That was oh my god, the dollar movie.

Alex Ferrari 37:23
Isn't that about that was if it wasn't about vampires in space?

Austin Trunick 37:26
And vampires from space. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 37:28
Yeah, God, I vaguely remember that movie. But I remember that but that had no major stars in it. And they spent that much money on it.

Austin Trunick 37:36
They had no major stars, but they had John Dykstra doing special effects. They had a script by Dan O'Bannon, Toby Hooper directing, they had a lot of the team from Star Wars, Nick melee, and his his team doing the creature effects is the guy that helped design Yoda and the cantina band. This is all of that money went was spent on the screen. That's a movie that for being a kind of silly movie about space vampires is beautiful, it's all set. It's all matte paintings. It's all shot with people actually on on wires, when you have the people going through space. It is just one of those movies. As far as practical effects go. It's one of the last great showcases really for the middle 80s Because soon, very soon after that a lot of those things were going more and more digital more and more computer being involved. And that's yeah, they had no stars, because all of that money really was spent on sets and effects.

Alex Ferrari 38:39
And even then, I mean, I think that was one of the mistakes they made then and this is something I preach about all the time on the show is like you need some sort of star power the higher that budget goes up and unless the star could still be Hooper wasn't an easy yes, he's still be Hooper, but he's not Spielberg, you know, and even Spielberg, I'm not sure would have been able to pull that off. As you know, like, you know, there's very few directors that had that kind of a Scorsese or Coppola might have had that kind of box office power back in the in those days, but that was a mistake they needed if they would have put Chuck Norris in lifeforce or Michael due to cough and lifeforce. It probably would have sold better I'm just throwing that out there.

Austin Trunick 39:21
Yeah. had even just their ability to sell it abroad. If they had a name that they could pin to that film I think would have helped a lot but they had to sell it on the strength of the team behind the camera and it's hard to sell a high concept sci fi film releasing in the summer on on on that sort of

Alex Ferrari 39:45
In 87 competing with predator competing with lethal weapon. Like I mean the you're talking about like really great years of 80s action sci fi esque stuff coming out I mean, it was so good lord. And I think that, you know, it's such a fascinating story to see how these guys in such a short period within a decade rise and start to tumble and fall within a pretty much of a 10 to 12 year period. It was it was you could start watching it. And he, I have to believe that ego had such a huge part to play in it just because they just wanted to become bigger and bigger. But they overextended themselves, they over leveraged themselves, to the point where if they would have just kept sticking to what they knew, and maybe just amped into what they knew more they could have, they could still be going today, you know, in many ways, because these movies haven't gone away. You know, I remember walking into AFM for the first time and looking up at the giant poster hanging from the ceiling and it was oh, it's Mike Tyson versus Steven Seagal. I'm like, well, there you go. You know, you know, and and by the way, let's go back for a minute to a movie called which I from what I understood, was the one of the biggest cash cows ever, in the canon, Canon canon. Which was breakin the original. It was before Beach Street if I'm not mistaken in the breakdancing phase fat of the thing was 8586 is when that came out. That that that exploded that had no stars in it, but it had breakdance and get it and everybody wants to know about breakdancing and it exploded. Is that correct?

Austin Trunick 41:36
Breaking was a movie came out in May of 84. It is the the idea behind it came in Canada, supposedly because manakin Khan's daughter was on Venice Beach and saw the person suggested it to him. And that was the story he always repeated. And they looked at it and then Malcolm that Beat Street was in production. It was already in production when he had this idea. Let's let's do ours. Let's do one faster. Let's get before Beat Street. I think you heard a pair that Beat Street was coming out in June. This is early 84. So they rush this they find the dancers they find basically bang out a script really fast, they shoot it as fast as possible and they get it out. And 84 It was the first one in two theaters so hit that brick dance craze. Even though dia came later than Beat Street and beat Beat Street theaters and it was huge ship was the soundtrack the hit the movie was did spectacularly and in theaters and cannon of course, within two weeks of of the movie coming out had already had ads running in the trades for breaking to

Alex Ferrari 42:51
The electric the Electric Boogaloo. The greatest, the greatest title of all time.

Austin Trunick 42:55
Yes. And they I was gonna be ready for Christmas. So they made to break dance movies in the space of about 11 months from one idea to make a break dance movie came to when the sequel came out in theaters.

Alex Ferrari 43:10
And the thing that's interesting about it is that Beat Street is a much better breaking it break dance movie, there's just no question. I mean, it's the dark greedy it's two different kinds of movie breaking is like no more New York and I was in I was living in New York at the time so it was like more gritty in New York you know in the subway that kind of break the into the core message there's it's dark death, all that kind of stuff. And then break in is kind of like the Disney Disney asked version of breakdancing which is everyone's like, Haha, we're in sunny California was all great. So it was a completely different vibe. And I think at that moment in time, I think people wanted to see the fun, you know, oh, it was ozone and yeah, Turbo turbo. Yeah, the turbo guy and then of course you gotta get you gotta throw in the you know, the cute ballet dancer who needs to break dance and all this insanity on it. But there's one thing also about breaking that she's I have a lot of cannon trivia, as you can tell. I love it that that there was a there was a young star who played an extra role in braking, which is genius to see. It is John Claude von DOM on the beach. I think it's on Venice Beach or something in the background while they're breakdancing. And he's just doing this dancing like the most awkward, weird dance and he's got like spandex on the ad spandex on and he's a young he must have been what in his mid 20s Young Young, very Claude Van Damme in it. So I mean, I remember seeing that for the first time I remember hearing about it because after I saw Bloodsport, I heard that it was breaking and it got breaking and it was just scanning until I found him on VHS. And I was like Oh my god. So can you talk this tell the story of John Claude and how he was dis discovered if you will, and gotten thrown into because I also have a bit of junk Claude. I was he was one of my my favorite guys growing up so it we're talking about no retreat, no surrender Black Eagle, then came Bloodsport and then cyborg was in there somewhere I think was right afterwards and then the studios got a hold of them and double impact and all those other ones that they did afterwards, which were you know kickboxer and all that kind of great stuff. But Bloodsport, was the thing that blew him up. Can you talk a little bit about how the cannon boys got a hold of John Claude.

Austin Trunick 45:42
So John Claude came to the States from Belgium wanting to become a movie star. He actually moved here with his his enemy, his nemesis and kickbox our tongue bow. Shell kiss, they were best friends. They were watch martial arts movies, Bruce Lee movies together and then moved together and they were roommates in Los Angeles is young thing aspiring actors. And John Claude is a very smart person like I he doesn't get enough credit for how for that side of things, but he knew that he looked at Ken and it was a company that they were making these these ninja movies these show what they looked at what they did with Chuck Norris, and saw that if he was going to break in and be one of these stars that that candidate would be the company that could potentially do that for them. So he started going to the cannon offices every every chance that and he would sit in the lobby he would hang out when he wasn't working when he was driving, working as a waiter and things at that time. Here wait for go on and this and he would demonstrate his kicks he would do splits we're gonna wait and see Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris was someone who bought him early on in the in the cannon lobbies and Chuck actually hired him as an assistant for a while. John cod is credited for stunts on missing an action as because he traveled along to with Chuck when he made that movie and they would jog together they would work out together there's some great footage of John holding the the mass as Chuck Norris is kicking them like very, very early on at that age. And that's also how he ended up in as an extra in breakin cannon was making that movie really fast. There's this Belgian kid hanging out, good looking Belgian kid hanging out in their lobby. They're like, Oh, come on, get in, get in the van. We need dancers for this scene. And that's how things like that happen. But this went on for years and years. Finally, from what's the story I got from John Claude, that's a preview for Book Three. Is that I guess monogame really kind of just gave in from this kid sort of paper. Herrera. Basically yeah, trying to become a candidate star by harassing him Blitz and kicking him out him in the in his life and brought him up to his office and John Claude, you know, he doesn't he says it in his he still has that sense. Where he's like, again, in the run up to manakins office. I take off my shirt. I started doing the splits and monogame at that points as your you have to think of don't think you're gonna be a great star. But I have this project. He gets out the script for Bloodsport. And Van Damme is on a plane to Hong Kong to shoot Bloodsport. What's interesting about Bloodsport is that's a movie that sat on a shelf for a quite a while it was shot and asex and it was released in early 1988. And this was a movie that when they came back from Hong Kong Golden Globe just saw the initial which I have never seen I would be very introduced if it still existed in some form but they thought it was unreasonable they thought the looking at them we was gonna did release to a phone and call this judge something unreasonable. It's been pretty rough. But that broke John clouds heart he did but he didn't he went on to do other things in the meantime, but some did. Late at night, really after the cannon was done for the day, he would go to Canada offices and sit down with one of their house editors and they were the fight scenes. So it's John and a cannon you know underpaid over cannon editors sitting overnight, cutting Bloodsport and adding really a lot of the slow motion I think we see in the movie that you would get from Hong Kong movies where you know a plus one to three times different tastes and different angles over and over for to nail every every blow home. And that was added and so by Late seventh guy 88 in dire financial trouble, they had just had Massey University and for all these flops, all these other trades with having to pay back loans and just be not having money, they're releasing everything they can to just get some money in Bloodsport, was a movie that the new cut they looked at, okay, wow, this is this is much better. And it was a hit, Bloodsport made VanDam. But you have to think, again, I'd mentioned earlier if the chips fell differently for Canon in some way. Had they released that movie had they had a better version of it in 86. Initially, that could have been that I'm sure if, if then, if film had landed, like I did earlier on, even if it didn't make the money they needed, they would have signed VanDamme to one of their famous six picture contracts 10 Venture contracts and again, there's there's universe somewhere where and kept going into the 90s. But in that because the strength of this this bar this new star they hadn't abandoned, but in this in the same sense, we wouldn't have had the Van Damme who gave us so many studio films like hard target and sudden death. And so it's interesting. It's one of those things canon they did. They did launch Van Damme but they really fumbled with how they handled it. I could have

Alex Ferrari 51:29
They could have say this they could have saved that could have saved the studios. The studios ass I mean, essentially because the two chucks really ran the studio for a while Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson who was also in his 60s when he became a star with them

Austin Trunick 51:46
Yeah, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 51:48
Gotta bless a man God bless him like I God blessed the boys I mean because the Cannon boysfor doing this because I mean Lord man, there's so much amazing thing that so much amazing lore behind what they did in that decade and change and it's just a fascinating stories fascinating Hollywood story of how they were able to rise to the top of the indie space and they were one of the one of the early people to to kind of create this whole pre selling idea of like, give me a poster and I'll throw a picture on it and you give me money before the movies even made and I'll go make it that and give it to you to be able to finance their movies if I'm not mistaken correct. They were the kind of they were the the forefathers if you will of pre sales and can and AFM.

Austin Trunick 52:40
They had Yeah, that that was an idea they took Corman but they mastered it. They mastered the the art of the they did it very well and they did it at the right time with having so many places to sell their their product to in advance. And again, that led to so many movies that would never have been made it also led to a lot of movies that weren't made and lead me to wonder what what could have been canon is a company that if you Google unmade canon movies, but if you look through any old spider Yeah, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 53:21
Spider Man 86 Spider Man like they had they had a poster for it. It almost happened you know what's about what's behind the scenes story about cannon Spider Man movie? Because I remember Corman I think Corman is the one that made the Fantastic Four movie so so he wouldn't lose the rights and then never released it. I think it's now been released since then. But But Spider Man because that was Marvel was like in bankruptcy they didn't know what to do they were selling off the rights. That's why took us forever to get a Spider Man movie. What was the what was the story behind that Spider Man movie?

Austin Trunick 53:51
Well, Captain Marvel was in a lot of trouble. And this is something that's hard to imagine not in the environment. But they they are in dire straits and movies were not something that people were doing in that that was something that still considered the idea of it. But they were shopping the rights to raise money for for their company and Canon came in they bought Captain America and Spider Man rights and these were two movies these were two characters that those are the only two that have the entire Marvel catalog that they thought were thought thought had any potential for making money they they could have had the entire Marvel catalog by every hero for a song and they just cherry pick to those to the rest ended up going to New World when new world bought Marvel but

Alex Ferrari 54:44
Punisher and all that stuff.

Austin Trunick 54:46
Yeah, but manakin go on what what is funny is he bought the rights to Spider Man not having never read a Spider Man comic not being familiar with the character. He he was under the impression that Peter Parker was a college kid who turned into you know, giant tarantula like a Teen Wolf sort of thing. And the earliest SpiderMan ads, the trade ads for it that they put out because Canada would announce everything immediately as soon as they had any sort of plans in place was going to be directed by Toby Hooper with a script by Daniel Bannon. They alien guy, Ryan, it was going to be a horror film and I think I think what happened was Malcolm had conversations with Stan Lee and family was like, you know, this isn't a doesn't turn into a giant spider right? And his senses came about like, I don't think that ever made it past like, Malcolm's earliest idea there. There are scripts that exist to the Canon Spider Man's that were never made. But the Spider Man cannon movie was one that was in the pipeline's forever that half of the directors who ever worked with Canon were attached to at one point or others started with Toby Hooper that was originally going to be the third of three picture canon deal. Then for a long time Joe Zito they spent a lot of money Josie to the director of invasion USA developing that one with he spent money scouting places, just trying out some of the effects and some of the things that they wanted to do. And then finally towards the end of the Golden Globe as Eric cannon, our Pune who gave us cyborg and some really genius genius genius. Oh, so good. Such a great but that actually if you want to ask what happened with Spider Man, the camera was in very bad financial shape. I as I said 8788 But they had already put some money into developing two movies. They said they were gonna shoot these two movies back to back de Noodler antithesis facilities down in the Carolinas. And the movies were gonna be masters universe two, and Spider Man.

Alex Ferrari 57:03
Two, how could they do two? This is before the first one was released.

Austin Trunick 57:08
No, this was after. So they still it was still in all still all in a we're still all in on on masters universe. And they basically both of these fell apart. Both but they had already been doing some work. They've been building sets for Spider Man, they had shipped all of the costumes from the original masters universe to Digi Digi studios to start on that and our punes plan was and this is one of my favorite things about the abandoned Spider Man is they were going to shoot all the Peter Parker stuff. In the first I think two weeks all the stuff where he's just the nerdy normal team, Team boy. And then they're gonna take a break. They're gonna take eight weeks in the middle and they're going to shoot massive universe two in the same place with a lot of the same actors and crew. And the Peter Parker actor who was this stunt man at the time Scott Liva was his name would have just gone on a training regimen like I don't know if they were gonna get them into the gym with Lou Ferrigno or something and he was just gonna get jacked and so over this eight week like you know, just hardcore working out he'd come back and be trim and muscular and he that's how they would handle this spider man transformation then they would film all the scenes where he's in the Spider Man costume so that was I mean it's it's such a cannon way of doing it of being able to handle transformation very cheaply just by taking a break and they would shoot those last few weeks. But those both those both those deals fell apart. Cannon suddenly didn't have the money to shoot them and ever Pune comes up with the idea to let's try to recoup what we spent already. Like I will write a movie that uses the sets we built the half built sets from Spider Man and the costumes and everything and then the actors we've already gathered here for Master universe to Yes,

Alex Ferrari 59:04
So this is news to me I'm fine fascinate

Austin Trunick 59:06
Yeah, so these two movies so our Pune wrote cyborg basically banged out that script and like kind of a, you know, weekend long fever dream. Makes sense a cannon. They presented it because this was after. After Bloodsport. They still had another deal with Van Damme to do more movies. And so Van Damme picked that script. So they ended up going and shooting cyborg a script that have been written in record time. With with VanDamme using the sets from spider man and a lot of the actors from what what would have been mastered universe to the bad guy, Vincent clan who has you know, he was a surfer. He man was going to be played Dolph Lundgren was not coming back for the second one. He was we played by LAIRD HAMILTON the surfer

Alex Ferrari 59:54
LAIRD HAMILTON was going to play master of the universe Are you kidding me?

Austin Trunick 59:59
He was doll replacement. Yes for him, man.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:02
It's not as not as bulky, not as bulky.

Austin Trunick 1:00:05
No, no but he so his he brought his friends he brought his entourage his crew with him and they were all going to be sort of these barbarian like humans like sidekicks because they did not have any like the second master's was going to be a much smaller budget than the first but they stayed around and they played the bad guys in cyborg so Vincent clean as a surfer he was one of Laird Hamilton's friends who had come to be you know, a barbarian buddy.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:31
Is he the guy please remind me Is he one of the bad guys in Point Break? Oh, gosh. He like because he has such a unique look. I remember he was one of the one of the surfers that surfer group of the gang that that Kiana was Kano and Pat Patrick says Again a fight at the beach with like the red hot chili pepper dude Anthony and and a few other guys in this other just big jacked up, you know very kind of almost Samoan looking. He's I think he might be the same bag. I want to look

Austin Trunick 1:01:08
Look it up. I can't I can't confirm right now. I can tell you he was a bad guy and kickboxer 2 but

Alex Ferrari 1:01:13
Well, obviously, I mean, obviously. So So you are telling me that cyborg the junk cloud of a masterpiece was originally shot on the sets of the failed Spider Man masters universe to

Austin Trunick 1:01:27
Yes, Cyborg Phoenix that rose from the ashes of the crumbled masters too in Spider Man. You can see bits of it in there too, if you know where to look for.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:38
Oh, yeah, no. Now, I mean, if I had the time to go back and watch sideboard I mean, I might one night that I'm bored. I'll find it and go back and scan through it. But that would be that'd be pretty amazing. What I also remember so beautifully about junk Lodz movies is that every movie, they would find a way to get the split in?

Austin Trunick 1:01:58
Oh, like cyborg is one of the best splits to

Alex Ferrari 1:02:01
Split right between the two buildings. And that was, Oh, my God, it was, Oh, my God was amazing. So as we're talking about, you know, Canon and what they've done, you know, you mentioned corpsman corpsman had been doing this since the 50s. And has continued all this way has not stopped. He doesn't have obviously the influence as he used to. He's in his late 90s at this point that he did at one point, but he never lost money along the way. And continued his bet because it seems to me that he never lost his formula. He never tried to be bigger than what he was. He understood that like, you know what, this is my lane. I'm staying in it. And the Canon boys just couldn't couldn't deal they had to go outside their lane. They wanted to be bigger than the bridges

Austin Trunick 1:02:52
Cannon, the Golden Globe as they they modeled themselves over. They wanted to be the next major studios, one of the things that they always build themselves, the next major studio, but they modeled themselves really the way they did business, not after studios of the 1980s. But studios of the 30s 40s and 50s. There was old moguls nobody was signing people to 10 movie contracts these gigantic long canon was because that's that's who manakin Golan that's that's who he idolized those Louis Meyers and the these moguls of the Golden Age.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:28
It was the studio system. It was the old school studio system where they owned the actor for for 10 pictures.

Austin Trunick 1:03:34
Hmm. And that's that's what they wanted to be. But but but corpsman was somebody that they admired corpsman was actually somebody that manakin Milan, who he looked up to one of his first jobs was one of them was a corpsman picture called the Young racers back in the 60s. And that's a film that manakin Kalon worked on Francis Ford Coppola worked on Robert Towne all worked on. And this was a B, you know, almost a C level racing movie. That's that Corman did and just the people that came out of that film that that the talent and the impact on Hollywood in one way or another is just incredible.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:14
I could keep talking to you for at least another five hours about this. I do appreciate you coming on and writing this second volume of The Canon film guide. This is I think you have opened the door to anybody who ever wants to write a book about cannon, and then you shut the door behind you. Because there's no there's why why there's going to be what three volumes. The third one's coming out soon. How many pages is just over 1000 1000 1000 pages. This is volume that that first one is about the same, right? So 2000 Where I'm assuming the next one's not going to be 100 pages. So probably not. So it is. It is fascinating. There's so much I didn't talk about so many movies that we could just go over and over. And I mean each movies like a two hour episode how they did it and how to get this way and, you know, Barfly was one of like, I was like the Barfly was made by them and runaway train and all these you know these amazing films but my my last question to you, sir, I know it's gonna be very difficult question three of your favorite cannon films of all time.

Austin Trunick 1:05:27
Three of my favorite Well, I'm gonna pick three very different ones. The easiest one my go to is always going to be Revenger the ninja by Sam Furstenberg, that's the cannon box that burned itself in the back of my brain as a kid and maybe one of the reasons I want to get back to the video store over and over again so I can finally rent out was was one such movie. I love invasion USA. So I'm sitting in front of a evasion USA poster right now but as far as the Chuck Norris movies, this is a movie that is big, silly doesn't make exact sense. But the action is is so so good. And since you've got Van Damme on in my mind, I have to go with Bloodsport. Yeah, it's such a again, like bendemeer It's so many great movies. That's probably still my go to if I'm going to pick one Van Damme movie, just throw on.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:25
All right, just on a side note. If we can go back to two then damn lore, besides JCVD which arguably is one of the best VanDamme films ever because it's it's it's just so in. It's not a normal Bondam film. It's a drama, but it's just so beautifully done. I think it I think he peaked as a quality film, not fun film quality film. I think time cop holds holds. Probably it was it was Universal Studios. It was a big budget. At least in my memory. I can't. I can't fight about it with anyone because I haven't seen it since probably came out. But I remember being like you know, this is a really good, well written good story kind of film. Bloodsport has a special place in my heart because I just could not stop watching Bloodsport. I know it's so well, but in my mind, it lives beautifully. And then the other day I turned it on. I'm like, no, no, no, no, I gotta turn it off. I can't other than the action sequences I can't watch the story or the acting because it will ruin it for me the you know those movies like the things that were perfect in your head and then you go back and going. That doesn't age well at all. But kickboxer cyborg has a special place in my heart I mean no retreat no surrenders. Cameo essentially that Vontae was that his first was that the first thing released if I remember was the black black eagle was second if I'm not mistaken.

Austin Trunick 1:08:02
Yeah, these movies were ones that came out while I was part was sitting on the shelf, which is crazy to think that this is just sitting collecting Dustin and cannons closet while he's doing these movies where he's essentially playing, you know, Soviet bad guys.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:20
Well, the funny thing is that and I talked to Sheldon about this and Sheldon was the one who wrote Bloodsport. He created and Vaughn DOM and the movie Bloodsport basically created Street Fighter and create a Mortal Kombat and the fighting games as we know him came because of Bloodsport, I mean they there's even characters. Yeah, in streetfighter that are still a little close to to Bloodsport. So it really shifted the the zeitgeist it was in the Zeitgeist and shifted popular culture in many ways. It's fascinating to see what these films that we grew up with what they've done in the course of 20 or 30 years and what they did and how they've affected pop culture and have been created. You know, stars of people that in today's world would never in a van Damme would never in a million years. Rise today. Not in the way it just too much competition too much. But without them. Would there even be a market for those kinds of films? That's the like with without a Von DOM is that without Bloodsport Is there is there above the law? You know, is there a Steven Seagal at that point? You know, what? Do you know all that without the ninja movies? Do we have a Bloodsport? You know, maybe one day who knows but that's just us talking my friend. I appreciate you coming on the show. Man. This has been such so much fun going back back into the archives of my my Canon brain. And all the the amazing stuff. I mean, you have now after the canons you have to do one a new world then you have to write a whole series of books on Orion, and then you know, you got to keep going and you get a trauma, I'm sure Lloyd will be more than happy to talk to you about making a whole series of, I mean, you've got the rest of your life to write all the rest of these books are. And one last question, man, why? Why did you sit down and write two to 3000 pages? On a B level? If not C level? Movie Studio from the 80s? What was the interviewer that said, instead of like, you want one little book about Ah, you went, I mean, deeper than anyone has ever gone before? Why did you do it?

Austin Trunick 1:10:40
I fell in love with movies at my local video stores back as a youth and Canon reigned supreme in those places, even if they weren't the best movies or the hottest renters at that point. There were a lot of cannon movies. And when you went to the video store every weekend looking for a certain type of film, that's you encountered that. And it was it was ninja movies, it was cannons and Indian movies is what made me fall in love with movies, watching Chuck Norris films with my dad, when I was probably way too young, Charles Bronson, things like that. That was they made movies that appealed to me as a young boy, I should say. And then after learning about them, if you start to peel back the you know, the cover of what, what canon was, the stories behind these movies are as crazy as what happens on screen, if not crazier, the how their genesis how they were made and how they came to be. And I wanted to find those stories. I wanted to hear every story I could from as many people that were there as possible, and collect them in a place because this is a company that did something that no one else did back then. And no one has done really since they the way the exact way they did it. And that's it's a very interesting as somebody who loves film history that fascinated me so much that I couldn't I couldn't look away.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:10
Basically, with almost any candidate movie, you can't really look away. I mean, it's kind of like watching a train wreck in a beautiful, wonderful way. It's watching these films. So awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the show. And thank you for putting this insanity together in volumes. I love that there's three volumes, the third ones coming out of this. There's so much stuff and you've made basically made a piece of film history that people can come back to in 100 years and they'll go this didn't make this is this is fiction, or not happen. This is not real. Hopefully they'll go back to this interview as well. If they find it on on whatever YouTube is at that point. And look at this interview and they'll go no it was real up. There's people talking about it as opposed to behind the guy. We'll see. We'll see what happened but awesome. Thank you again so much my friend where can people buy this and by volume one, Volume Two and Windows volume three coming up.

Austin Trunick 1:13:02
You can find them anywhere. Anywhere books are sold. So your Amazon's you and your local bookstores can order them if you got a brick and mortar bookstore try to support that that's that's that's always great. If you're if you're lucky enough to be in that position. People can find me online at I'm at Canon film guide on Twitter and on Facebook, my social media handle and I'm always sharing more canon information on there. There are so many things that as big as these books are just would not fit. And social media is the place that I can keep that conversation going answer questions and just show the weird things and crazy stories that I'm still stumbling across that even I can't believe

Alex Ferrari 1:13:41
Last last question. Did you ever talk to the boys?

Austin Trunick 1:13:44
I have not. And not for lack of trying. I have tried so hard to get a hold of your arm. So your arm if you are listening. I've said many, many emails to your assistants, I've sent letters to your office, I would love to talk to you someday. That's my dream interview.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:06
That's the dream. That's the dream. So none of the boys you've got to ever get to talk to so it's all secondhand. All secondhand stuff from like Sam and and all these interviews that you've done over the years of people who are still alive and working. And did you ever talk to John Claude or chuck or any of those?

Austin Trunick 1:14:24
Jean Claude I've spoken to so he'll be in volume three. Chuck No, Chuck does not somebody who looks back very often, but. He's never really done retrospective interviews or anything. And he sadly, I mean, I don't know that he will. He's never been on a commentary or anything like that. I would love to speak to Chuck. He's another one. But yeah, Jean Claude, I've talked to Michael Judah cough and the second one I've, I've talked to at this point, I think about 80 people who worked for Cannon at different points one point or another And, yeah, I'm still reaching every. If there's anyone who's missing from the books, it's not for lack of trying. I'll say that. I've reached out to everybody.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:11
You've done an amazing job, my friends. So again, thank you so much for putting this together. And I appreciate your time today, my friend and continue the good work you do. You're doing God's work, sir. You're doing God's work.

Austin Trunick 1:15:22
Thank you.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:22
Thank you, my friend.

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IFH 633: Confessions of a Hollywood Screenwriter with Pen Densham

Today on the show, we have Pen Densham. Pen is a successful award-winning screenwriter, producer, and director, with an extensive track record in film and television. He is responsible for writing and producing some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Backdraft, Blown Away, and some of its longest-running television series, including The Outer Limits.

Starting with his first job in show business, riding atop a live alligator for a theatrical short film made by his parents, Pen decided to leave his English school system at age 15 and has since spent his lifetime in the business of entertainment, selling films and television series, as well as hiring, mentoring and collaborating with A-list writers along the way. His latest film is Harriet, which he is the executive producer of.

Pen’s latest project, Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing and Not getting Eaten, was written with one clear goal: to write the kind of book he would have loved to read when he was starting out as a writer-filmmaker. Pen is also an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California’s prestigious School of Cinematic Arts.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.”Albert Einstein

I had a ball speaking to Pen about his time in Hollywood, what it was like to screenwriter/producer monster hits, and his screenwriting philosophy on how to make it in Hollywood.

Enjoy my eye-opening conversation with Pen Densham.

Alex Ferrari 0:17
I'd like to welcome to the show Pen Densham. How you doing my friend?

Pen Densham 3:57
I'm doing great, Alex, nice to be chatting with you again.

Alex Ferrari 3:59
Yes, I know, we met at a wonderful mixer the other day. And we hit it off. And I'm like we have to be on the show. And, and you've written some of my favorite movies and produce some of my favorite movies of all time. And I will get to all of those in a minute. But before we even get started, how did you get into this business?

Pen Densham 4:18
Oh, well, I was born into it. My folks are making short films when I was a little kid. And so I'm four years old, and I'm writing an alligator in a movie that my folks are making about people who keep strange pets, dating myself. That movie actually went out with Africa Queen into the movie theaters. So I saw my mom and dad with cameras and the power of cameras. And since that time just yearned to tell stories and have that but I call it casting a spell. You're you're doing something that's extraordinary people are all drawn to it. And I don't think they had babysitters back then because they couldn't afford them. So they took Meet a Water Street. So I'm four years old, meeting the people that are distributing their movies, and sitting in the theater with them, watching them with them. And from that time on, I just yearned literally yearn to be involved. And then my mom died when I was eight. My father's behavior was not as supportive, he married a very difficult lady, and a 15. I left school with an eye love cameras, but my school was trying to punish me out of being imaginative and helped me by getting me a job as a bank clerk or something. And my stepmother and my father, were doing the same thing. And it's very destructive, to your sense of self worth, and your holistic, the way your mind works if you're a creative person, to have people banging on you to being egotistical or difficult. And so, it, it left me with a deep sense of trying to protect other people's creativity. And, and also, it gave me a lot of understanding about creativity and vulnerability, which I think people who have very complex imaginative minds are also vulnerable to a lot of self doubt. And so we were talking a bit about why I wrote a book on screenplay writing, it was that I couldn't find a book that reassured me, when I was starting to write screenplays way back, that I was normal, that this process was not perfection, you sit down to write from A to Z, or you have to have every plot beat and every structure, I learned that when I let myself go, sometimes I would have the last lines of a movie in my head that had been in my brain for two years, knowing I was going to write it, get the last lines that make me cry, and then pursue getting the rest of the movie. And it's illogical. And then sometimes we have what we call the islands of sanity, which you get two or three pieces in a movie. And you know, you have to write the rest. And it's not about writing to fit somebody's belief system or some architecture, but it's how do you get that voice out of you. And I think if you get that voice out of you, you write to a different potency level. And also you protect your work for longer, you fight longer to try and make it more approachable for a buyer. And so you don't give up on it. Whereas if you write something to hit a formula, oh, horror movies are selling or ROM coms are selling, right one, but it's not in your nature. When the people that you're trying to sell it to give up on you, you give up too. Whereas I have scripts that I've fought from generation to get made. I can't give up on them, because they're somehow in my soul, which sounds crazy. But

Alex Ferrari 7:44
it doesn't sound crazy at all. Wait, well, first of all, I always tell people, we're all crazy to be in this business. We are we are all carnies. We are all we all ran away to join the circus we are isn't that isn't that a good analogy, we all are currently, the most unique people ever you meet in this business, they're all a little bit crazy. You know, we just put on a show. And if you want to get a complete, you know, perfect analogy is, when you're making a movie, you go to a location, you put up your tent, you shoot for the day, you put on a show, you record the show, you put it down and you move on to the next location. That's a carny.

Pen Densham 8:23
That's fascinating. I liken it slightly differently. But I still think that's an incredibly valid way of looking at it. I, I look at it, because I've tried to figure out how to overcome the suffering of it. Because the way I looked at it is, it's like a sport, and I absolutely love playing it. And the sport I think it is, is American football. Because I get hit, I have to put a team together. I don't have to love everybody in that team, but I have to inspire them. I'm going to have the ball stripped from me, I'm going to sit in the bench sometimes. But if I get to play and I love it enough, it makes it worthwhile.

Alex Ferrari 8:58
And then you get your start in the business as a screenwriter correct?

Pen Densham 9:02
Not quite No, actually. My my. I don't like talking about my mail too much so but left school at 15 tried to start my own businesses in England, fled to Canada at 19 thinking I was a washed up failure ended up in a culture where young people were being helped to make movies. And I'm going Holy crow. And I'm watching a 15 year old guy making a six sound 16 mil movie. And because I've been trying to sell things in England, I was able to help him sell his movie to the to the TV network. And started to see in Canada, there was an exchange of ideas from young filmmakers. And we were making short films. We were learning from each other selling to the world markets and the schools and libraries, which was a market back then. And in some ways I see this parallel happening in the way that the business is now aggregating again, many different avenues of opportunity. And so we tried worked with a couple of companies. When including introduced me to Marshall McLuhan, who is the guru of Communications at that point in the world, and that sense of free thinking and the sense of starting something, because you cared about it, and pursuing it until he put all the money together, and all the pieces together entrepreneurial side, was trained into making short films, at a point where we, we also learned, if you don't enter, you don't win awards. And if you don't win awards, people don't know how to judge your movies. So award winning became something we pursued. And we ended up winning over 60 Awards got medals from the queen, but it's bullshit. Because if you don't see it, it doesn't happen. And we made this one film, which was vitally important emotionally to me, which is where we asked children to direct commercials for life as if they were selling. And I wanted to make a movie about young people's imaginations in a way of protecting the punishment that I've gone through and saying, These people are incredibly valuable no matter what age they are, their imaginations of vital and powerful things. So by doing this, we got a movie that we ended up with nine young people each directed their own commercial for life with real actors, real crews, and we managed to get it nominated for an Oscar. And we we i'd also learned being a huckster being a carny that I'd seen other friends of mine in Canada get occasionally nominated for an Oscar, and wait to see if they won, and went to the Oscars didn't win and came home and no one knew what had happened. So I said, Okay, bucket, we're going to put every ounce of effort into making sure everybody knows that this nomination happened. And so we were on the front page of every newspaper, we had a film crew fly with us to Canada, from Canada, to the Oscars, we got permission with the government's help to take all nine children to the Oscar ceremony, and you know how hard it is to get tickets. And the end result was that when we lost, there was only three movies in that year, but one was part of the LA Philharmonic. So the we were on the front page of every newspaper in Canada. And we were on the nightly news Palooza. And that put our company on the map, which again, gave us the opportunity to go out and beg for more funds to go do films that we cared about.

Alex Ferrari 12:22
That's amazing. And it's something that they don't teach this that exactly what you did is you get an opportunity like this, whether it's an Oscar nomination as a short film, Sundance, a big event, a big news article, something that you leverage it, and you and you try to use it to push your your yourself and your company or your movie further along. And filmmakers aren't taught this I yell at this about this at the top of my

Pen Densham 12:48
writing a book about this, right?

Alex Ferrari 12:50
Yeah, my my new book, Rise of the film shoprunner talks about that, as well as many other ways of creating revenue streams and so on. But one thing I wanted to talk to you before, before I ask you some other questions I have for you, the whole world of distribution is changing so dramatically. And you know, you we were talking OFF AIR about this whole distributor thing and you know, and all the press that I've been getting, and not only me, but all these 1000s of filmmakers who have been been hurt by you know, the downfall of this film aggregator, and how that many ways that the system is rigged against, especially at the at the low indie level, the system is rigged against independent filmmakers as far as distribution is concerned. How do you see things going forward? I mean, we we kind of touched upon it a little bit. But there is going to be a change, look, look, Netflix came along and literally changed the entire industry. You know, this little, little company that would could have been purchased for 50 million bucks by blockbuster back in 2000. And I think two or three and now it's worth 150 billion. And it's changed not only the industry but changed how we view our viewing habits, how we the concept of bingeing the concept, all the you know, it's changed the world. That's there's still going to be more changes coming in, I think they're going to come faster than we even anticipate for independent films and for for creators, what do you think the future is in distribution?

Pen Densham 14:14
Well, you know, it's, it's the Gold Rush, nobody knows where the veins are, no one knows how you're going to chill them out. It's a creative entrepreneurism, which I always call that process that you must spend as much effort selling your material to people as you use to create it. And I call it also building a bridge backwards, which is you can't anticipate that your buyer understands what you've got. If you make them make the effort of trying to categorize what you've got, you lose because you're doing something where they have too distracted and don't understand it. So I break selling down into four component elements which I'm now going to give you my two minute lecture on how to sell please. First rule is identify your buyer because no one buys from a stranger research them and then reach out to them and find compatibility Because you're not going to sell to someone unless they, they feel that you understand them a little bit. So you know that they were the people that did that particular movie that was successful and you praise them genuine. Everything is about authenticity. Because people have a big bullshit detector, you can't, and you've got hustle on your forehead, you can't hustle people, when they don't feel so good a reality. Yes, there's, there's a good passion. So anyway, so you research your buyer, you create a rapport with your buyer by meeting with them and talking about things that they value. Second one is demonstrate passion, because why should they care if you don't? So you take you take an idea. And I tell my I taught a couple of times at USC film school. And I'd say you can be almost inarticulate if you demonstrate passion, because the excitement is contagious. And if you have got something and it's cold blooded, and you don't really care, and it's a marketing device, you're not going to get me believing that you're going to go through brick walls to achieve it. So by demonstrating passion, what you're doing is getting the that this is the root stem of my belief systems that I'm investing in this thing. And it's more likely to get people to support you. And when you're doing a movie with somebody, if it's a development deal, they're putting their job on the line a little bit with you. And so really a pitch is a chance to have a conversation with somebody, and not a chance to say okay, I've got 47.2 minutes, and I have to give you a to z of a of a structure, because that leaving them out that then I use a demonstration, I say that my wife had a dream. And it was so scary. She stayed up nights. And then she told me the dream. It seems scary. It was keeping me up. But I decided to turn it into a movie, which is my passion statement is a totally illusory one, but it's helpful. And then I say that movie, which is what I call the goalposts is sort of like halfway between the exorcist and alien. Now the reason I use that term, before I describe what the movie is, is that I've made a relationship with the buyer. I'm demonstrating passion. And I've told them that I'm going to show them what this movie is in terms of the things that they need. Because selling a movie is really filling the need of the buyer, not your idea of getting them to buy you, but what you're trying to sell them that you provide a solution to their goals, which is a nice say this movie is halfway between the actor system alien. Now what developed exact wouldn't like to have one of those in there. And so what I've done is I put two goalposts and simplicity, I don't say it's halfway like the X is the alien and got a game of thrones, because you screw up there, remember, and so, hopefully, between the Xs and the alien, and they might give them my pitch. And I say this movie is about a defrocked alcoholic priest who's taken to the moon by NASA, because they found the devil's bones up there, and people are becoming possessed. And I could sell that. And I just use it as a pitch module. But what what I'm really trying to demonstrate is that people will send me scripts or ideas every day, I get dozens of emails, and I've got a movie that's a horror movie and horror movies of selling. I have no interest in you haven't you don't know that I did Houdini Moll, Flanders Robin Hood. And that I've got a an interest in physicalized in historical characters, and that I'm interested in making altruistic care heroes out of things. You have no idea who I am or what I'm, what I'm. And so because you didn't research me, you're not going to touch my heart. And if you send me an email, and you say mall, Flanders, my wife and I crave when we saw that movie, we love seeing Houdini, which you did. And we wondered if this project would have an appeal to you, that changes the whole dynamic. And so I also see people trying to sell their work. And they'll say, Oh, this sold in the movie theaters this weekend, and I got one just like it. And you go, oh my god, I bet you you've already sent that out to hundreds of people and why would I care?

Alex Ferrari 18:59
Can't can we can we? can we can we I just want to for everyone listening right now. I need to just I want this to be put out there into the universe. I've said it before. But I want to say it one more time. If you're creating a pitch, and you're making a horror movie, do not use Blair Witch Project in the paranormal activity as examples of how much more money your movie can make. Is that a fair statement to say? Well, it's

Pen Densham 19:22
it's a fair statement, because those are so extreme that they're unlikely to be taken seriously. But if you can find a couple of films that are really solid, yes, in great lengths into the market, and have got a similarity of relationship, there's two goalposts things. But also what you're looking at is the buyer is the button. The most buyers don't want to do exactly the same thing twice. There's no stimulus. If you go to a director and you say, hey, you did The Blair Witch. Well, I've got this other shaky camera movie about people,

Alex Ferrari 19:51
but I'm not a witch, a witch, you

Pen Densham 19:53
know, whereas if you take a look at them very seriously, and you study them a little bit, you say, you know, I noticed you did this. In this with this challenge you, would this be exciting, and you're really looking at the next stepping stone. And actors are also excited to get involved with things that challenge their skills. They like to be a little scared. And so if you got a you know, it's like going to Costco and saying, hey, you just did Robin, how would you like to do? Will you tell? He's gonna say no, no, not at your mind. But when you like play some of the investigative john f kennedy death Yeah. Because that's fascinating. And your goal is the artist entrepreneur trying to sell your work is to try and see the buyers and there's a lot of buyers out there, you know, we normally need to have you come at us through an agent or a manager or a lawyer, those are the three routes. But you can also go in through potentially a professor of school, USC or somebody who would, who would add you add their name to you as an advocate. And I suggest to people going after the actors, or directors or producers with their own companies, and avoid the studio, because they don't have a system to engage people like us, the more freebooters. But the directors or the actors, they have people looking every day for things that will stimulate their biases. And so you don't look like you're coming from a prompt proforma place, you're coming from a place of discovery for them. And if you can do that, then you've got a good chance of breaking through the system and actually getting seen, but you got to research your buyer, you got to even make friends with the assistant, a lot of us forget that we're dealing with human beings, and it's human beings, to human beings that will help you. And by taking the time in a meeting, when you're going to meet the boss, take the time to say hello to the assistant get them number, and follow them up afterwards and say, you know, is there anything I could learn from what I went down and when would be a good time to talk to you about and you realize, again, assistants are on every phone call. They they monitor the progress. And they also scuttle that with each other about what their studio is looking for what their boss is looking for. And a lot of the time the students the the assistance in a structure are people trying to get up through the system just like you are. And by by taking again, honest interest in them and asking to their experience to help you get to your goals. You create friendship. And as they as they go to their levels of opportunity. And I've seen a direct a friend of mine ended up being represented by the assistant to the to the agent he was with, it was with a big agent who never had any time for it. And suddenly the assistant gets promoted to agent. And she's only got three clients. So suddenly, he's gone from being ignored to being someone that they're trying to push. And now she's the head of lit for a major agency. So again, this this process of creative entrepreneur ism is looking at opportunity and trying to find it not being scared to look for ways to get yourself to the front. And I also believe there are systems for reinforcing yourself such as I call it story midwives. But there are safe people that you trust, who will tell you the truth in a kind way. And you've got to expose your work to people there before you expose it to the Philistines the net, the naysayers, the difficult ones, because they can cross check all the things so that you get it really right. And can be reassured that when you go out to the other buyer that you've gotten most of the questions answered, or you've got most of the material clear, so that people understand it. And we call that asshole proofing. So we don't send a script out until it's really clear that we've got most of the objections and the things that are hard to understand out of it. Because you don't get to read. And if you put a year of your life into a script or longer, and you've got things that people didn't understand in it, it's it's like falling in the water of a stepping stone and you know, you're going big, big thing and then and then you're wet for the rest of the script if the rest threat. Whereas if you fix those things, you've got a script that's solid, and your friends have reassured you that it makes sense. And then you put it out to the world, but you never put it out until you've got it. Because all that effort deserves that. That kind of sense of value in your own.

Alex Ferrari 24:23
Now you've spent you've said it a couple times creative entrepreneurship, which I call film intrapreneurship which is, which is the same exact thing. I truly believe that in the future, the film entrepreneur is going to be the only way independent films, independent filmmakers can really make a living is being an entrepreneurial filmmaker, entrepreneurial, creative, and that goes with screenwriting that goes with filmmaking. Do you agree? Do you think that because the because the opportunities, I mean, you come from a time you know in the early 90s and before but like specifically in the 90s there were there were a lot of gates Lot of gatekeepers, there was only a handful of places you could go with a project. And, and out of that you were like, really, you were stuck in the really independent world, where and again, even there, there weren't a lot of outlets. Now, the gates have been flown open. The big boys still have gatekeepers, but there's so many other places that will accept your your, your art, your your projects, your writing, that the there's so much opportunity, that if you're not entrepreneurial about going after those opportunities, and then monetizing those opportunities, once they come into your world, you won't survive. Because if you're trying to play the game by the rules that they set out for you, which is stacked against you, I don't believe that I don't believe it will work. Do you? Do you believe that that the entrepreneurial creative, the creative entrepreneur is going to be the key to making a living in this business,

Pen Densham 25:55
we're in a revolution, we don't know where we're going. But I always figured there'd be 100 million TV channels. And I was thinking that since the 90s. Oh, we're not

Alex Ferrari 26:05
too far off.

Pen Densham 26:06
We're not too far off. It costs you nothing to upload your film now to YouTube and actually profit from it. So you can actually become your own studio and your own distributor. Now what what the next thing is, how do you get an audience and that comes back to being imaginative in some way. We did a TV special on magic many, many years ago. And we complete that show, we hung a guy in secret over Niagara Falls and did a straight jacket escape. And that we, you know, first of all, when we when we went to Niagara Falls parks commission, they said no freakin way, you're never going to do that. So then we realized that we've been totally reject. And then we decided, Okay, so then we analyzed who was on the parks board found a guy who was 80 years old, who knew my brother, my father in law. And we asked him if we could show him one of our movies. And we showed him a movie that was about sports heroes of Canada, he came out of the screening crying, and he then let us go and make a presentation to the board. Again, it would already totally refuse this. And I happen to go to that on a day when they were fixing Niagara Falls, and they had a crane outside, killing in concrete on places on it. And I said, I really, first of all have to apologize, I failed to tell you how important this was to our company. But secondly, I'm going to tell you a secret. My guy who's doing this study was the amazing, Randy says it's no worse than falling out of bed. It's like no danger. And but we don't want to tell people that. And then I said you already have people hanging out over the Niagara Falls right now, if you look out the window. So I all that effort ended up that I was able to shoot raising Randy upside down and when Agra falls in secret in the middle of winter, and then we held the photographs until the show went on the air. And I phoned up every newspaper in Canada. And they said, We will give you exclusive on this these photos that no one knew we'd done of a stunt at Niagara Falls, if you'll put them on the front page. And we weren't with any other newspaper have. So and we ended up getting front pages with our stunt which promoted our movie. Now, is that effort normal? Or is it what you have to do? I don't know. But it certainly for us was the only way we could break through the clutter that we had back then. And I think that same kind of application of energy, whether it's finding a reason why an audience should tune in or find a reason why a buyer should buy those things are really part of making films. And I learned from Norman jewison. Mike, Mike, my luck was that we did a lot of short films, then we did a lot of TV specials. And we would not be in getting support to do a drama. And I eventually found to a friend of mine who's another filmmaker, he said CBC is giving 10 grand anybody that can make an idea as a young filmmaker that they'll approve. I decided I would write a drama, which was the most miserable experience in my life never done it before. It didn't matter, right. I was 30 I had always been too scared, ended up working with direct directing actors that never done in my life. It was the most miserable experience, like Todd edited, like a sports film together. He pours out of it. It was a piece of shit. And I was so embarrassed. I sat with him in the editing room and there was days it was taken film. Oh my god, I just let everyone down. We have to do something what happens? What does this face look like before he says that line? And you know that was a

Alex Ferrari 29:33
man that took a minute to do back that took

Pen Densham 29:35
all Yes. And you look at it looks like the guy's thinking. And you go oh my god. What else can we do? So I went through the whole thing doctoring it with my partner putting it into cuts, expanding the pauses, you know, and it wasn't 14 Awards. I'm going no no no. I just barely survived this and Norman jewison offers me free paper by the Indian Government come to Hollywood and are going, Oh, I don't deserve this, you must I mustn't do this, because there's a thing called imposter syndrome. And when I'm coming back, some you're talking about earlier, but people, I'm invited every year by final draft and meet the winners of the final draft contest. And what I do is I have a breakfast with them. And I talk about imposter syndrome, which is the failure to take advantage of an opportunity. And what we only get those opportunities once in a while. And if we question ourselves during that opportunity, instead of pushing to its most possible, beneficial outcome, we fail ourselves, and we're going to be polite, we're going to feel like it's it's wrong to push ourselves and that this is probably a mistake, and we don't deserve it. And I will frequently ask them, What else have you succeeded with? And I said, Well, we, you know, was in leading school play, I have several writing prizes. And you realize that these people have a consistency, but they don't validate it. And that's one of the most dangerous things as a creator is not believing in yourself, and not going to take opportunities. And I say, my worst personal damage is the things that failed to have the courage to stick my neck out and try. I call those my errors of omission. And they still haunt me for going, Oh, you idiot, you could have walked across the room and class. That guy, that actor you didn't do it because you didn't. And so I want to encourage people take the freakin shot because your areas of comission where you embarrass yourself briefly minor compared with the opportunities you might find. And so going back to taking another shot at Niagara Falls, it was embarrassing. It was scary. I'd already been rejected. Les Moonves when I had the idea of trying to revive the Twilight Zone last time was revived, rejected me soundly, three times in a row would actually said yes. And then changed his mind. That might send him a letter saying, you know it because he's changed his mind. Because the system they said, TV couldn't use anthologies. And I said, Well, you've got 60 minutes, and you've got unsolved mysteries. They're anthologies, same host every week, different stories. And they've been number one. That's not the same thing. So I get shut down. Can we got this clip of pieces from our adult limits TV series, which was science fiction, fantasy, some wonderful, really fascinating CGI and things we were doing at that point. And we put this together to demonstrate what we've been doing. And I said to my partner, john, he put the Twilight Zone music on that. So I then I delivered it to Les Moonves, and his, his people thought it was fantastic. Unless there's I'm not doing this stuff. And then les gets control of UPN, which is the network at that time that had Star Trek on it. And that was the number one show. And I go to my partner, john and said, Could you get a lesson mentioned that Twilight Zone might be good, because we found, by the way that they own the Twilight Zone. So it was not me coming to them with something I'm trying to actually get them to do something. I love the Twilight Zone, I'm the only person who can actually provide both the Twilight Zone have the outlet. So I my partner says, No, no, no, you have to do it. And I got to do this. I'm too scared, I'm gonna he's gonna, he's gonna like scream at me. And then what I did was I found what I call a framing device, which is, I'm taking you through the steps of trying to be entrepreneurial.

I found something that made me comfortable. And a framing device, we use these terms because we needed the, we need to help each other, find these things, which is something you could say, or something you felt that protected you so you could take the risk of sticking your neck out and trying to get to your dream. And my framing device was I wasn't courageous enough to phone less. But I was willing to write him a letter. And my letter that came up to me that gave me permission to talk to him was DLS. So healthy. I swear I will never mentioned the word twilight zone to you ever again, after this. And that was my friend device. And I felt great. And then I wrote, how about it being a companion piece to Star Trek. I was in his office the next day. He said, I'm giving you 10 days because we're up against the deadline. You can write whatever you want a 10 minute presentation, whatever you want. I wrote it on a one hour pilot. I didn't know I could write a one hour pilot. But if you fucking put yourself under the it's amazing what you can do. We were shooting it within 40 days.

Alex Ferrari 34:47
So to me that's unheard of in the industry.

Pen Densham 34:51
But it's because the demand was at his need. I was filling his knee. He's taking over a network he has a number once Science Fiction show. And the idea of teaming up with one of the greatest anthology series is, and we, we always bowed to that not being us, we were picking up the mantle of storytelling. But it wasn't our show. We were, we were celebrating what had gone before. And that's an example of not giving up.

Alex Ferrari 35:25
That's that's his

Pen Densham 35:29
word. But once in a while, you end up with a success. 22.

Alex Ferrari 35:35
That's amazing. And one thing that

Pen Densham 35:38
you said before, because we had two stories every episode,

Alex Ferrari 35:41
so that was fair enough, fair enough. So the one thing you said that I wanted to touch on is that you were fulfilling his need, where I feel that a lot of screenwriters and filmmakers are asking you to fulfill their needs, you're not being of service to you. So like, if you're the person I am trying to pitch or do something else, doing that research, because you, you want good projects, you you want good things to do, and so to studios, and they all want you to be a good project. They all want your script to be the next greatest thing of all time. But most people and I see it, I get it in my inbox every day. I just literally got one today that like sent me a screen, a screenwriting a screenplay, a courier script, Curry, whatever that thing is, where they're like, Hey, I have a new script, I got this kind of coverage Would you like to do? I'm like, do you not know who I am? Do you? Do you think I have some sort of? Sure, here's a million dollars, that's gonna make it. I'm not that guy. You didn't know research, but you sent it to me anyway. And, but but by being of service to whoever you're trying to pitch is so much more powerful, and also more powerful when you're selling to an audience, when you're selling to a customer, when you're selling to a producer or a studio being of service to them should be the way you lead with these pitches, is

Pen Densham 37:02
that make sense? Well, you chose to play this game, which cost millions of dollars or high school if we now make a film on our iPhone, which is possible. But you're still investing your time and energy you have to look at the end result is trying to get it to a mass market. It's not like you're trying to do this for personal reasons, you're trying to get as many people as possible to see it. Now, if you would, if you were selling a car, would you go out and sell a house like a mini within who's got six family members? You know, so it's like, asking those questions, you're going to sell a Cadillac Escalade, to somebody who's just come out of college and has, you know, gigantic bills for their education and no money now. So you're what you're trying to do is fit your project, because there's probably a place your project might fit. If you've asked for proof the project by checking out with people that you trust, that the material is strong enough now. What you're looking at is, okay. What what people? Could you see using this as a tool to get into their goals? Not I'm going to send it everywhere. But how can I make it personal, so that you see a director who's done several, very, very high key but very unimportant, unemotional movies, Marvel Comics or something, you wonder if they and you see your research underneath them, you see, wow, oh, my God, this guy studied Shakespeare. And then and then. And then you realize that maybe he likes something that's really contained, but would really show off his skills, working with actors and emotions. And you you then approach the system in his through his either his agency's management or through his own production company, and you tell them and the most important thing in any letter is acknowledge the quality that you validate in that person. Because the first thing they read is going to be, oh, he gets me or she gets me, as opposed to I've just got this project and would you buy it? It is I understood from researching you because I loved your this, that this and that. And but also I saw that you had this deep heart, you're actually donate money to charity for whatever this is. And I have immense feelings for that same thing. Would it be okay if I shared this project with you? And another tool is don't sell, ask for advice. Sometimes it is easier to get in to meet somebody or to exchange information by showing them that you understand what they've done by finding an advocate. Maybe you've gone to film school and your professor will say, you know, I love this guy. He's very unique and I believe that you're talking to him would help help his career. You get that out of your professor, you make the effort. And then you go to this person and you sit with them. Talk about your Career, what you can learn from them, you create a relationship. And along the way, you mentioned the project, you think that he might like, that's the effort, you have to go to not sending a frickin email app.

Alex Ferrari 40:10
You mean sending 5000 emails out and, and it doesn't even say their name, it just says Hello,

Pen Densham 40:16
yes. Or even worse, you know, and those poor people, you know, they they're, they're not wrong in sense that the school systems don't teach entrepreneurs, the colleges are not about trying to help you find routes to success, they're about trying to fit you into a system. And, and it doesn't mean to say that you won't succeed some time just the law of averages, the monkeys and typewriters will write Shakespeare, you know, we have enough of them. But if you can help yourself by finding your framing devices and finding tools that reach out to people through your genuine care and excitement, to deliver something to them, you believe it's special to their skills that you validate. That's a much easier way to sell. Now,

Alex Ferrari 41:00
I wanted a one of the things that we talked about when we first met at that at that mixer was your work on a film that was released in 1991, called Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. And I told you I sat there gushing, because Robin Hood in 1991, I still remember it. So clearly, I was working at a video store during that time. And I went to the movie theater with my friend, we sat in the front row because it was sold almost sold out. So we had to sit in the very front. And you know, with our necks cranked up and we watched it and I don't know if it was the reason that we felt like we were inside of it because we were so close to the screen. Or if it was just that impactful to that that high school kid. But when we walked out of that theater, we went right back in and watched it again within within 20 minutes. And I don't I could count on how many times I've done that in my hand. That's how wonderful of an adventure it was for us. And it was such a it's one of my favorite films of that era. Can you tell me how did you you wrote you wrote Robin Hood? Prince of Thieves and you're also a producer on it. How did you how did this whole thing come to come to be? Because Robin Hood is one of those you know, every every decade or two they just redo a robin hood? You know they and I don't know before though Kevin Costner one. When was the last Robin Hood? Like prior to that?

Pen Densham 42:19
Oh, probably Disney. The anime?

Alex Ferrari 42:21
Yeah, the kouachi. So that we're talking about like 30 years prior to that. And then Flynn was prior to prior to that. And

Pen Densham 42:28
I remember that there was a banks whose before that, and

Alex Ferrari 42:32
others, but I do remember that there was a TV movie that came around that was trying to hack it just jump on that Robin Hood bandwagon I remember very clearly in the jar to release it as a because I worked the video store. So I remember watching.

Pen Densham 42:44
Oh, yes. Right. So I remember watching that video story behind that too. Okay, well, if I get boring, cut me off and just say get to the end.

We've been very successful in Hollywood working with people like Stallone who'd asked us to fix things in his films as consultants, because our own hands on way with GM was very successful for getting problems resolved. We worked outside of the definition of just a script. So we had access to people, which is very cool. But we also looked at what we were also doing was in Canada, we choose and chose to pursue things that excited us. Having had the privilege of having a wife, I looked at what do I want to say and I'm looking at Stallone making movies about killing lots of people and sports and I can make in commander where human beings are just targets and I'm looking at us raising his kid putting all this energy and and going, what an enormous amount of love and effort it takes to raise a child and you are using them as target practices, what would I like to say. And I came up with this idea of putting a Muslim and a Christian side by side in a robin hood, which would show to people are different of different who's supposed to be enemies actually learning from each other. And also came up with this idea of what I called the makers of life versus the takers of life, which was if you had a hero hero, and it could be a heroine who's willing to die for the future of someone else. That's like a we did backdraft which is like a fireman is willing to die so he gives other people a future. That's a maker of life. That's an altruistic hero. Whereas a taker of life is someone who puts their foot on a hot dead corpse and thinks they've done something wonderful. So I went out and pitched a robin hood. That was about a lesson hidden inside an adventure because I grown up on Robin Hood. I grown up on the TV show just like you watched ours and came away with my heart full of jumping off rocks with a sword in my hand. And I went to three different studios and pitched the Robin Hood idea I had which was to take it and make it a an adventure but with this idea of putting a Muslim with him. And the three all said pretty much the same thing. No one wants to see guys with swords all he wants these guys with guns, you're wasting time. And I was about to give up. There was a number of there was a, there was a thought that I was also off course, by trying to put an Arab in Robin Hood that didn't look good to a couple of people I knew. And we had a partner, we have an assistant who was working with us called Mark Sturm. And marks sort of looked at my notes and said, You know what, I think it's a great idea. If you start out try and help you. And so the only reason Robin Hood exists this because that guy gave me enough encouragement to blow on the embers of something that I'd almost given up on. And I started writing. And every day I looked at what I was writing, because I wrote just passionately not not, not with any plan just to see what would come out to me. Every day, I looked at my pages and thought they were obvious. It's silly. And Maid Marian comes out. And she's very large. And she's and Robin is shocked and looks up at her on the balcony and says, Oh, my the years have been kind to you. And then suddenly, he's jumped by a person in leathers. And that turns out to be made. And that seems obvious to me. And like my assistant is no, no. And then he's giving the pages to john Watson who's reading Oh, my god, no, no, keep going pen. So I've got encouraged to keep taking risks. And we ended up that the film I got, I got the script out of me in three weeks. But it also then I gave it to john, to go through it and format it and add any any ideas, any adventures, and so it had his layer on it. And then as it got shot, different people added other elements. And we ended up with a rich, funny, warm script that was the seeds of what I created, and the energy of what I created. And to me, I was making a movie where you taught people a lesson about altruism, where you took the richest, most spoiled and not just Lord son, and he told his dad to go screw himself, he was going off to fight and father's begging him not to try and force a man to another man's religion. And he comes home, sees his father's dead, and takes his anger by making his peasants go out and fight the show. And then realize that all he's doing is destroying their lives. And then he has an epiphany, and he's willing to die for their sons for their children's future. And we put a birth scene in the movie. And the birth scene is metaphorically my son being born. And Robin Hood doesn't. It is both an adventure. But it's also a philosophical statement of life for me. And I couldn't give up on it. And so there were and john

took on the challenge of he was what I call up to with Aston Martin arrows most of the time, because he's a great onset producer, and I'm bar philosopher, producer. So I was working on changes and writing things. And, and whereas he was really taking the brand and getting 100 day shoot. But the movie itself grew as each channel is each element came to it. And Michael came and score was just extraordinary. I also got to run the mix. And I am very much about when you create a movie, you're weaving a dream. And the goal is never to let your audience wake up. It's like blowing up a balloon, you must never let the air out. And so in a mix, I worry about every facet of it. Can I pre lamp a sound coming in from the next scene? So there's no pause, but you're not conscious of it. If there's a pause in the in the dialogues, that's, that's empty, can I put birds flying from the trees so that your ears tuned without it knowing that you didn't actually hear some dialogue. So I I'm also excited in that process of keeping a trance, which is don't wait, don't like the audience wake up. And so when you mix a movie, which is the most beautiful part of the movie, because like a Frankenstein, you're putting new blood in it. And then when it comes to life. To me, every aspect of making a film is like costumes tell a story. Sound Effects tell a story. They have character and distribution, even the title. Your title sets up a trance state and induction. A few I studied hypnosis. So there's a thing you know, it's just inducing people and inducing people makes them want to go with you into the dream state. And what does that mean? I think Hollywood is a is a called the dream factory. Because truly, stories work on our Dream Center. Like we have receptors in us. And that was what Marshall McLuhan taught me when I was all those years ago, saying, Look at an audience watching a movie. And you'll see they're in a trance, and they're moving their faces with the characters on the screen. And years later, I found myself So that said, the reason that that's happening, which is fascinating to me is that we have a social structure in us, which is the ability to sense and feel empathy with others. And the way it works is that we are hardwired to our pain centers, we micro mimic the expressions of others as we watched them, and then we feel what they feel. And if you Botox yourself, you don't feel as much and you don't send as much, right, which is fascinating. And we have these things called mirror neurons, which are in a switch light up in the parts of our brain, when we watch somebody do something, or even when we read a book about somebody doing something, those same parts of our brain light up as what the characters doing in the book. So that's why I come back to this trot state. The purpose of a story, which is the thing that most people don't understand, is to teach us a lesson about ourselves. So that we can actually watch the struggles of the characters and make choices about our own lives and the things we struggle with. Based on making a decision. Having observed others struggle comes back to if you have a hero in a movie, Superman isn't vulnerable, he doesn't have a problem. There's nothing to learn from. So and the real purpose of films is to find what the characters floor is what the difficulty is, and illustrate it to the external story of getting the adventure out. But inside is the actual journey. And it's usually only like three steps. I'm a spoiled rich brat, I then have a tantrum, which causes more problems. And then I come to learn who I should be, if I was not spoiled, and take responsibility for myself. That's wrong, you

Alex Ferrari 51:46
know. And so the way you've explained it now, knowing the movie so well as well, as I do is that it just adds a whole other layer to it. You should have done the director's commentary, or a commentary producers commentary, writers commentary on the DVD track, back in the day, because it does open up

Pen Densham 52:05
a completely. You know, again, it's different different things get to a writing audience, I'll talk about these things. It's nutrition. An enormous number of stories don't have nutrition and emotion is that you, you've got a personal journey that you can relate to, that you can discover how to change yourself because of watching these people struggle. And I came up with a system inside our company because we developed hundreds of stories, where I changed camera with code words pulled a nugget nugget for us, is the seed inside the story that's going to grow in the brain of the person watching it. And what you know, an example would be a man is getting married, and his girlfriend is starting to feel the closer to the date, the more he's sort of like living in a world and she's feeling that she's being suffocated, because everything she's doing is there. And he's not letting her have a sense of her own freedom. And she called off the wedding. And she says to him, you know, I can't do this. And you know, you're not letting me be me. And I'm, and he said, You don't understand. My mother left the family on Christmas Eve when I was five years old, and I didn't know how to love her enough. So she was Stay with us. And she says I'm not your mother, you have to trust me, you have to give me my freedom. That's a nugget. And it's three lines of dialogue. But it's got such pain and damage in it. And the story is, can he let go of his old fears and trust this woman to be the one MP he wants her to be in? Can you be the person that you would have been if that damage had never happened? So once you look at the story, and you say Okay, can I can I define those things? in you? My rule is you write stories Anyway, you can't, then you look for these things and see if you can emphasize them. And usually this piece of information is discussed at the belly of the beast is not as, as Joseph Campbell says, when the characters crash and burn at the end of the second act, and all looks hopeless, they do a reassessment of who they are, and a character who has an influence on them will will suggest something or will change their perspective on themselves. And the last act is can they become who they really should be. And we learn we then learn about ourselves letting go of our own fail damages or and using strategies to have a better position in life.

Alex Ferrari 54:31
Yes to everything you just said yes. It's it's, it's it's amazing. I'm just sitting here just listening to you. And I'm just like, you know, like, I feel like I'm just sitting here like around a campfire right now talking to you as you explain these things the way you do you have a very hypnotic tone

Unknown Speaker 54:48
to you. Right?

Alex Ferrari 54:50
You have your voice is very

Pen Densham 54:51
hypnotic in a very good way can write for everybody because there's going to be people that do things absolutely different from anything I could imagine. Oh no, no question. And I say Einstein said, it's not that I'm smarter than other people, I just stay up think longer. And I have the privilege of doing so many stories and trying to make that process simpler and make it effective. And I'm a humanist. So I want my stories to reach out. And I believe storytellers are basically what shaman would have been around that campfire, which is to help the society pull together.

Alex Ferrari 55:25
And that's its purpose. Now, when you made when you made you had a run of the two films back to back, which was pretty successful. You had Robin Hood, and then you had backdraft, which is the Ron Howard movie. And both of them are amazing films again, during my video store day, so I, I made sure to suggest that to many, many people, sir. So. But what was it like cuz I've had other guests on the show, too, when they had that one or two like that. There's moments you've had multiple moments in your career, but that I think that was probably one of the first big

Pen Densham 55:56
exposure that put us in the math in a different way. We've done several features, but nothing has opened the doors as much. And and even though the doors open, they didn't mean you get carte blanche. No. I say scripts are like sperm in this town, there's millions of eggs in production, so that you can frustrate the heck out of yourself. You write a script, and it could be the most beautiful, the most coherent, the most emotionally potent, you can't get it made. And you're damning yourself, because you think you failed. No. When I look at my I vote in the app, it's every year, which is the Academy. And there's usually a list of 300 movies, only 300 movies qualified in America to be considered the best. And so we've got 1000s and 1000s of scripts out there. And it's not a it's not necessarily a statement of failure, when something doesn't get made.

Alex Ferrari 56:54
Now, what was it like I always ask my guests at some time, especially if there's been that moment, that moment that kind of really explodes them in town. What is it like being the belle of the ball, because I remember Robin Hood, when that came out, that was a monster hit. It was a very, very large hit for both Kevin.

Pen Densham 57:10
I mean, Kevin was on that was that was his peak time it Dances with Wolves. So we were getting an enormous amount of dreams, terrible reviews. My son was with us in New York, and he said, Why do these people hate you that has their reviews in the New York Times are horrible, but you know the thing, you know, Time Time heals all wounds and remembers critics. So you know, in a way, you can't judge what you've achieved except, and that comes back to this thing. Do what you do, do it to the best of your skill level, let let time be the judge of it. But if you don't, and I when I say right, create think you don't do it to the point where it's dangerous, which means you're going against the convention, as you're going in, you're taking it, you're not going to find your voice, you're not going to be the significant person. Everybody says, Well, I want to film like his because he's got a voice. And we those don't stick out with novelty and originality, but they're still going to follow the same footsteps of any good story. But they will be in a fresh way. So we get Robinhood we get some doors opened up. But we also get asked to do every bow and arrow film in the world. And then we find their films that the system is not it's you got to love it. And you can't get it let it get you down. But I spent time with Mark Stan actually helping me with my my my writing assistant on that project. I spent time with Arnold Schwarzenegger working on Gulliver's Travels for Disney spent like 18 months, the Disney at that time goes, you know, it's a really good script. I don't know why I'm not gonna make it

Alex Ferrari 58:59
and have and have Arnold attached. Yes. So Arnold in the 90s, which arguably, he was still one of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time.

Pen Densham 59:08
So he says, but you But you see, this is normal. And we've gone through dozens and dozens of steps. And you realize that the logistics of this are not why not their survival long enough with keep trying to present the things you care about. So that you're willing to take the risks of exposing yourself to try and get them to become reality. And if you don't care about what you've done, which goes back to don't just do something because you think it will sell. You're not going to keep going through the years and years. Now what we're talking about Harriet Tubman briefly.

Alex Ferrari 59:43
Yeah, so yeah, it's for everybody to know when we're recording this Harriet just came out the weekend prior. And it did bid at the gangbusters and people were like really overperformed so please tell us how you're involved with that.

Pen Densham 59:54
Much more than anybody anticipated, which is wonderful. Harriet Tubman I discovered As an Englishman, listening to a quiz show, which asked what what woman wearing American uniform went into battle soldier. And I got that sounds interesting. It's the only one. And I go and start researching the answer, which is Harriet Tubman and find this extraordinary, mythic, incredible altruistic heroine. And it appeals to me very much to make films which have got a reinforcement of human nature. We managed to get Disney, which was Hollywood pictures that time to write a script with Gregory Allen Howard, who was one of the producers and one of the writers on the Harrier, and we got three drops out, and we couldn't get it made. Run, we were approached by people who had picked up the baton, and proud to say, we did not stand in the way we said, Take the project, did not charge the money for it, and said, just let us stay involved in some way. Give us a credit, if that's comfortable for you. But God bless you go out and get it made, because her story is much more important than us having money in exchange for it. There are things that you you just think America needs that story. Mm hmm. Oh, then the producers on the movie, who took up the challenge? You know, they go through fire, and they got through fire. And they ended up with a beautiful film, a wonderful human statement, a moral purpose that I am so proud to be associated with. But all I did was plant the seed

Alex Ferrari 1:01:41
in you, when did you start that journey? 90? Correct. So I can only imagine trying to get here.

Pen Densham 1:01:50
A 94 when we sold, Greg Allen, how it getting written. So even there was four years of trying to get that.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:57
And during the 90s this was not gonna happen. Like there was just I don't think it would have been very difficult in that environment. I mean, in today's world, it's it's tough. But there's an opening for that there's a conversation about, about minorities and about other other other stories that need to be told from different perspectives and so on. Back then it would have been very difficult, like, I'm just trying to think of the Hollywood pictures logo coming up with that movie. I'm like, in the 90s

Pen Densham 1:02:25
I'm an optimist. So you never know. I mean, that's the thing. You gotta go, you gotta try that. And the beauty of it is it, it takes a team. I was I may have, you know, blown up the football at the beginning.

When I played the game,

it takes a team where we chose a very difficult business.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:49
No, and it is and it's and I always tell people, we've our paintbrush, and canvas is probably the one of the most expensive on the planet, you know, to play with. And other than architecture, I think I always say is like, as far as an art form is concerned, this is probably one of the most expensive art forms there is. And as filmmakers, and as creatives, we have to take some fiscal responsibility with the money that we're given, or that we spend on this on these on this process on this process where I just love when filmmakers we've never made a movie ever. And by the way, I put myself in this category because I said the exact same thing. When I first started, all I need is 3 million. All I need is 5 million, 5 million I can make It's nothing. It's 5 million. It's not that big a deal. The last movie was made for 200 million a Marvel spending 5 million on coffee. it you know, and that's all fine. I did write that. I've heard this. I'm sure you've heard this a million times. anyone listening out there? No. It doesn't work that way.

Pen Densham 1:03:42
Yeah, there's some outliers, of course that have that, you know, they make their their indie movie and then are given a Marvel movie or given a big studio movie or something like that. But they're outliers. It's not the way the business works. Is that fair to say? Well, you can create your own business if you're able to have enough guts or enough partners who are helping you. I do think that movie business as you've been asking is, is changing. But I can't tell you how it's changing. Where's the where would you put your energy right now to try and get movies made? I think that, you know, the apples and the Netflix is still not accepting independent films until you've succeeded, then they'll cherry pick you. So your goal is to try and get something out. That gets viral, that gets emotional responses that gets you to be noticed in legitimate awards, because I think there's a lot of awards comp groups that are out there that may not be actually giving you status whereas the Nicole's are in final draft or the Austin have very sincere, very real judgments on your work. And if you if you get and you got to fight for these things, and and it's hard, frightening, demoralizing, and therefore that's why I keep coming back to if you Have a personal philosophy and you're pursuing it, nothing you do is wasted. Every element that you write, even if that movie doesn't get made, adds to your ability, it's like muscle development, it adds to your ability to the next time you write. And I've seen myself right out of sheer passion, when I suddenly hit the click moment when it's right. And I was talking with another young writer yesterday and talking about exactly the same thing, we tend to write a form. That is our nature comes out of our subconscious, what you're really trying to do is to get it out of your subconscious. And I have tools for that. One of my tools is to look at the process, like a Lewis and Clark Expedition. Any frickin way to the coast is legitimate.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:46
Amen, brother, amen.

Pen Densham 1:05:48
You've never been there before. How can you critique the journey? know that once you get there, the brilliant thing is just get to the end. Because just get any way you can get to the end. And if necessary, I write bits. So I might have an ending and then get, I might have a middle and an end. I don't write in a linear form, I write whatever way it comes to me, and I'm grateful for once you get to the end, then you get to see what you've created. And you see what you've actually subconsciously been given to yourself. And sometimes it's like dictation out of God. You know, you just don't know why you're getting it. But if you question it, you screw yourself. So there's a net, there's a nag in your head, this game is always the time, no one's gonna like it, that neck has nothing to be objective about, what it's doing is it's just trying to prevent you from going into a dark cave. And it's helpful when it's doing that. But it's not helpful when you're writing something you've never written before. So you got to ignore the nag. And then you write down this stuff, and you get to the end, and then you take a giant celebratory sigh, because that's a monumental achievement to get to the end of anything creatively. And then you get the permission to look at it, and see why you really wrote. And now now, you have this opportunity to see what it says to you. And it didn't exist before. So now you're you can make a judgment call. And I call that putting the freeway through. And what you're doing is you cleave off all the things you don't need, you combine two characters, so they become one, you essentially, now know why you and how you want to go and why you're getting there. And then you put up freeway signs. So everybody else can follow you. But you don't do that as one thing you don't right, I gotta be perfect got to get it out of me. And I got to cut it right it so it can be a hit. No, you just get it out of you, and then tune it. And then return it once you've had people read it. So that you make sure that the people who are reading it, understand what your goals were and don't don't just have an ego snip and say, Oh, that's obvious, they should not know if you're going to do that. And you're just damning yourself, because you will find that most people don't know, they don't have the time to read, they read very badly. Or they give it to somebody who does coverages, who's paid 50 bucks to read it in a hurry. And so the more powerful you can make the statement and not allow it to be misunderstood, the more chance you have of selling it.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:15
Now you also you work obviously, as a producer, you've worked with many directors in your in your day. And you you're always looking for collaborators to put like that team together. Specifically, when you're hiring the director, what do you look for in that director? Because I think there's so much misinformation about what filmmakers want, you're smiling. Because Because you're like it because there's so many filmmakers have this illusion of what a director needs to be like I always tell people if you walk on a set and the director has a T shirt that says director or a hat that says director you need to run away. Generally speaking, I don't see Ron Howard, or I don't see Steven Spielberg was the director and everyone just knows who they are. So what do you look for? What are the characteristics you look for for a good collaborator and specifically the director?

Pen Densham 1:09:03
Well, it two different forms. One is in TV, I look for people who will bring the kind of style that I had envisioned for the show to the screen. And you know, I'm I did space Rangers, which was a great fun, I call the rock and roll in outer space compared with Star Trek, which was classical music. We only land we only got six episodes shot. But I chose people that could shoot it like Hill Street Blues with a sense of human. So I was looking for directors who could actually facilitate things I couldn't do myself as a as a show creator. But the other way we look for is people who've written something that's so poetic and beautiful, or so that we understand that we can support them getting it to the screen. And so we frequently work with writer directors. It is or we work with directors whose work we feel simpatico with a visionary, who tend to use the camera in a way that's poetic So that our goal is if we're not, if I'm not doing it myself, I want to do it with somebody whose work I really think is exciting. And my my mentorship as a producer on a set is to ask the questions of the director in the quiet spaces that you get what you want. Don't give up. Let me figure out how to help you. Because I know when I'm on a set, the amount of pressure, the number of people asking you questions, the the, the time issues, the frickin effect didn't work, and you've got somebody tapping and saying, we're going to golden time. I know if you don't shoot it, and it doesn't work, right. Don't accept it. We'll figure it out. Because I've been there. And I know if you accept it, you're the Florida film. And so I'm quietly trying to be an ally, for the vision of the director, not telling him what to do. But I'll sometimes come with a palette of options. Because I'm with pressure, it's really easy to have ideas. Very true, very true. See three different ways you can solve this and any of these help, but never telling him what to do.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:13
No, now you written this amazing book called riding the alligator. Can you go a little bit into details? And we talked about it a little bit earlier in the show. But can you just go into a little detail about what this book is and who should read it. Because you know, it's not just for screenplay writing, I mean, it's also about the business in many ways about how to deal and navigate the business, which is from a person who actually navigates the business and actually has navigated for many years. So tell me a little bit about the book, The origins of the book, and what you hope that it achieves.

Pen Densham 1:11:44
I was invited Well, it's an interesting thing. Again, I'm assistant to us, one of the development execs, who left our company and gone to work for other companies came to me and said, I gotta talk to you. And I go, Okay, what is it? He says, You got to write a book, it's I'm not writing a book, because I don't have anybody explain things the way you do. And I think because I work with partners the whole time. And I and I am a visionary, I don't deny my creativity. I've always had to explain my creativity in some way to try and get other people on board. So we could all go in the same direction. And so he said, write a book on creativity. And I'm never going to do that. And then my partner who's gone to USC, and is now a tenured professor there. So would you like to teach, and I'm going to teach but, and they said, well, it would be the entrepreneurial class, which is the pitching class. And I go, oh, cool, creative entrepreneurial ism, I wouldn't mind to find out what that is. Because maybe this is when I could write a book. But I was too scared to write a book. But it was I wrote one chapter. And I went in that first day, I gave the students my chapter. And I said, under professor, mark my paper, and it was unpatched. And I wrote the book based on what I felt I wanted to communicate, where my biggest vulnerabilities were, where my biggest failings were, were the things I needed to be reassured about, to create a sense of voice, not to dictate what you should achieve, try and find ways to reinforce people's skills, so they could take the risk of being themselves. And my book was determinately, responsive to what I was learning from the MFA students at USC, about what were their instincts and what were their feelings, and how could I give them strength? So my, I, I don't believe in teaching, I believe in inspiring. I didn't want to make a book that was a formula, because I, you know, we one day, we had a young guy get up, run out of the room. And I phoned him up, and I said, what, what happened is that I just panicked. And I decided I'd write a chapter on stress and the good side of stress, and try and put stress in a perspective, which is stress is actually a positive survival mechanism. When you look at it the right way. You know, we're naturally problem solving creatures, but it doesn't mean it doesn't cost us something to try and figure out how to solve the problems. So never seen a book with stress in it. I, when I first went in, I never taught I didn't want to freakin syllabus was I thought it was something had to take penicillin. So I'm looking at the syllabus in this, the previous guy, it was one book, and going, I've got 30 people already in one book, what a waste of time. So I then found 18 books, and I found them on Amazon and I said, Okay, we're going to divide these books up, and everybody's going to do one paragraph on this book, and the 10 most important things that they learned from it, as if this was information you're going to share with your friends. So the first week, the students come in, and they're pitching the books and the 10 things, that's Amanda and and then I put 10 of those in my book which were They could you could sample 10 books on this in this area in Hollywood instantly, and make decisions, whether that books you want to buy where these ideas just sort of fit you. And I also found people like Shane Black and lead a colleague ritas, who are successful Hollywood, I asked them to write a single small chapter on overcoming fear. And what was the worst thing that ever happened to and because I would bring in people, and I wouldn't ask them, How did you succeed? I'd say, what's the worst thing you have? Okay. And you find that then it normalizes the process, you know, I spent, one of the most wonderful things like like was, I got to be able to go and spend two days with David lean. He was at the American Film Institute, doing a retrospective of his films. And what we discovered was that when he went when the film, were happy to introduce it, and he come in afterwards to answer questions, and then he sat in the lobby. So, you know, the guys that were smart, went out in the lobby and spent two days asking him questions. And he complained about not being able to get Dino dilaurentis to greenlight his version of Mutiny on the Bounty, Robert bolt script. And he felt sabotage by that. He talked about his struggles to get things that he wanted done. And it wasn't as obvious and as simple as he makes it look when he succeeded. And it's not that I'm David lean, but what it did was it humanized the process. And it made it so it was understandable and achieve that look at what he is his body of work and see how he work, which, again, just gave me courage.

And so I wanted my book, to take the myths of being perfect. And I really don't like schematic books, except as a checklist at the end of writing, then they're helpful. But at the beginning, if you're trying to write someone else's formula, you're you're going to run into a lot of problems, trying to think like someone else, a lot of these people are wonderful, they developed exactly, they've gotten a lot of experience, but they've never initiated, an initiating is blowing on an ember sometimes, and making it flame up. It's like getting a two year old to ride a bicycle, when they're 15, you got to get all the way to all those stages of creativity. And you don't do that by yelling at it, you don't do it by beating it every time it folds over, it's like, you got to be able to see yourself as nurtured and taking risks and that making mistakes is normal. And it's acceptable. Because if you don't, then you won't be able to take on the challenge of getting to the end of a script. We allow ourselves in film to do multiple takes with an actor, and then we shoot another angle. So you know, we should allow ourselves that life, that having multiple takes, you know, rewriting a book is more important than writing it some way. Because you're able to distill down, what do you maybe took 10 pages to write, you can now distill it down to a more cogent level, you can't do that the first time you write it. And to criticize yourself for not writing coherently immediately is self flagellation is terribly unfair. So my my, my thing was to try and help allow people to jump into the unknown and other things, philosophy philosophy, so choosing an agent or a manager, we tend to think we should get the biggest one, because that's going to be a career bonus. In fact, the biggest one has to deal with the biggest other writers. And so you get very little that person's time, my feeling was searched for the person who is your, what we would call a Fairweather friend, someone who's going to talk to you when it's shitty, not somebody who's going to talk to you when it's easy to sell you that they they're philosophically looking to support the vision and the style that you've got, as a human being in your art. Because if you're working against them, and they say, Oh, I can't sell that console that can't sell that, you end up being demoralized. But if someone says, you know, if you just did that, I could sell it. That difference is enormous. It's it's vital to create a people so my books effort was to try and find and guide people to take steps in a career in a lifetime. So that your work became your life, so that you can integrate both of them and also deal with the fallow periods which along and also deal with the things that you don't necessarily sell because there's just too much out there. And also encouraged to take risks and to stick your neck out and try entrepreneurial ideas and when they don't work switch again. And I you know, I'm and it goes right down to the philosophy of how do you lay out a page, which you can't argue about when you're writing your first draft. But when you get down to it, every word you get off a page makes it easier to write easier to read. So I worry at the end of the process, right down to the whitespace. In the layout, if you see a script that sort of helps you read it, because it's embracing your eye, and it doesn't have big wedges, just an easier script to sell. So every step of my processes is all about trying to get the thing I deeply care about to an audience that can buy it. And if it doesn't go there, at least I've carried it on with a sense of personal purpose, and learn from the process.

Alex Ferrari 1:20:31
Amazing, sir. Amazing. Now, we've gone we've were we could talk for another three hours, I'm sure. But, but I am going to I'm going to ask you a few questions. I ask all of my guests. So first of all, what are the top three screenplays every screenwriter should read? We will I mean, it's not going to be on your gravestone suggests, you know, just

Pen Densham 1:20:56
it's not the sort of thing I think about so I mean, I could I could risk three right now. And then another three. Yeah, gosh, that's awfully difficult. Everybody's gonna say Lawrence of Arabia. Good. Rubble, wrote in a very distilled and powerful fashion, we actually got the privilege of meeting with him and tried to work with him on things and actually did work with his son. And so a bolt script is a great thing to read. I think you should read lethal weapon, which is again, and it has what I call fusion writing. And fusion writing is what I really, again, you have these rules, you're supposed to use the descriptions for certain stuff. No, you're supposed to use the descriptions to support your store. And therefore, when you read it, when Shane Black is like putting punch lines into the description, he sees a gun. It's a big gun. And it's really a hiring gun. You know, your potency is in the description areas as well as in the dialogue. And if you know, practice can carry thoughts that make you see into their mind. So I insist that people write for him. I heard other people say, Oh, no, no, I do. That's against the rules. There are no rules. The rule is sell your story. So if you read lethal weapon, what you're reading is this potency of imagery, this pulp fiction writing, but it's just so dynamic, that it causes you to want to keep reading and pulls you into the characters and into their lives and into their minds. So that's two, three. Okay. It's a Wonderful Life.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:34
Okay, very good.

Unknown Speaker 1:22:36
Yeah,

Unknown Speaker 1:22:36
that'll do. That'll do. All right.

Pen Densham 1:22:38
I yearned to try and make a film like it's a wonderful life, I worked for 12 years on a project of mine called father time, which was about father time, who gives human beings time every year. And he argues with the original architect that we're just a waste of time, and is forced to go down to earth for the last 24 hours before he has permission, not give us any more time, and bumps into a family and friends what it is to be human. And I want to see that movie. What

Alex Ferrari 1:23:03
why is that movie that made

Pen Densham 1:23:06
more films out there than there are people to make them, you know what scripts out. But it's a wonderful life, people can use it as a comedy. But in fact, it's a it's a semi tragedy is a guy, it's going to kill him. And everybody loves him, and he's going to leave them behind. And what it really is illustrative again, of this altruistic heroism, the humaneness of that film is just beautiful. So if you read it, you really get to grips with some of the the elements of it that are very humanistic, and quite troubling, and at the same time, very beautiful. And reinforcing of human nature. Now, what

Alex Ferrari 1:23:45
advice would you give a filmmaker, or screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Pen Densham 1:23:52
Well, it depends what your goals are. If you want to write, I would say, go and try and write anyway. I, in my book, I have a chapter on what to do if you're not actually in the business, which is go work somewhere that's creative, see creativity going on. Go work for a cable company that's doing local shows for the community, because they're going to likely let you do things because no one is really wants to take on the work and volunteer for it. Try writing things that are that you put out yourself on your cell phone, put them on the internet, put them to the train, try and get noticed. You know, again, don't overwhelm yourself. Another thing that lifetimes nine was selling commercials for life, and that was to not overwhelm the kids. And so sometimes people will do these epic things, which they can't, they struggle to achieve. But if you say I'm going to do a three minute utterly, incredibly potent short film, you'll get people to look at that. You can get that to a studio executive. He said All I want is you know 120 For your seconds or whatever it is. And if you've mastered something, and you can do it, I mean commercials do it every day that is original, different, potent, we've got a better chance of getting noticed. Then if you do something which is 10 minutes and floppy and doesn't quite hold together because you could. So my my attitude is due to tools that help you break in, find allies who are willing to spend time with you already in there. So social go to go take classes on screenwriting, that there are night school because you're going to meet other people that are doing and you're going to find a community. That's the Ken Robinson as the number one TED Talk, which is Weis, how schools kill creativity. What what he talks about is find your tribe and hang out with them. And that means engineers only feel comfortable talking to other engineers because their brains work that way. musicians are most comfortable with other musicians. And they suddenly start grooving off each other and they start giving each other katatak charismatic catalytic ideas. And so you should go try and find where you can hang with people that are doing something you want to achieve in a non dogmatic area, so that you can learn from them. And I say that my buddy who flew me out and said the CBC has got this TV show is the reason I have a career in Hollywood. A friend tipped me off. And interestingly enough, we're still friends and executive producer on his latest movie, which is a movie about the Beatles going to Rishikesh with Maharishi. And yesterday, we're chatting. And, you know, I've tried to help solve these problems. And because from the outside, it's so easy. You know, when you're in the middle of it, you got this cloud around your head. So

Alex Ferrari 1:26:43
is that movie being made is that movie being made, it's made, it's,

Pen Densham 1:26:46
it's finished,

Alex Ferrari 1:26:47
I can't wait to see it.

Pen Densham 1:26:48
I can't wait to see. And, you know, I actually went with him and my wife and another friend to Rishikesh a year ago and went to the ashram, which is now like a jungle ruin. And that the Indian government is slowly trying to turn it back into tourist spot, tourists neck. That's amazing. He went out when the Beatles first were there, and photographed them, because he was running away from a bad breakup. And just like spending the 60 times, Jesus.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:23
Alright, so what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Pen Densham 1:27:29
That's the one I have? stick my neck out more?

Alex Ferrari 1:27:34
Really take more chances is what you say.

Pen Densham 1:27:37
Yeah, I'm terrible at it.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:39
You've done okay, sir, you've done okay.

Pen Densham 1:27:42
I, but the interesting thing about creative people, is the thing that you most care about is what you have achieved. Especially if you're working on things that in passion, you have projects, two, or three, which are what I call life scripts. These are the things that forced me to write and tells you, and I am failing my life scripts, if I'm not doing enough to get them made. And I'm not finding the actors that can become the carrier wave to get them laid on. And I'm trying, but I'm not trying hard enough because they deserve more.

Alex Ferrari 1:28:16
Now, what was the biggest fear you had to overcome to make your first film or write your first screenplay?

Pen Densham 1:28:26
Well, self doubt, I think that that's the you know that this is a waste of time. I'm a freakin idiot, who am I, we came to Hollywood. And we sold a couple of projects. And we we determined even though I'd won all these awards for this drama, I sure that I didn't know how to write, and that Hollywood writers didn't know how to write. And so we hired writers. And then we looked at the work realize that no better than us, there were, in fact, some ways we were better interpret, better interpreting my ideas. And I kept doing that kept sort of trying give someone my idea, and have them write it because I was scared, I wouldn't succeed with it. I wasn't good enough. And then when you see the result, you go, Oh, God, why did you do that? And I've done that to two or three projects where you go, Oh, I should have stayed on and had the courage to write to self doubt is the biggest problem and putting yourself with the right people don't hang around with people who do a lot of drugs do Allah, you know, I sound pompous saying that, but I did drugs. When I was a young guy. I tried them all in fun. But I actually want to hang out with people that are constructive, who are self studying, who have a vision of the future that is optimistic, and are going to be problem solving, and they're going to be allies when it gets tough. And that those are the people that you can build a foundation on. And coming to this town to start a career. You have to find the People we have to work together. Which is why trying to find community places like going down to like school or something it, it puts you in a banding opportunity. And going through school or USC or something, I say, keep reaching out that network of people will be vital to you in the future, try and help them try and give them things so they want to trade with because somebody don't mind someone will know some access to something that can change your life.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:32
Now, where can people find your book and more about you?

Pen Densham 1:30:36
Well, I don't promote myself well enough. I did put up a kind of cheesy looking site called writing the alligator calm. And you can download a free chapter from my book, which I love. And also you can download this link to downloading a book I wrote, which is a mini book called a creative person success manager. I wrote that out of passion. When my son wrote me an email. He's also a writer, and we tend to mentor each other. And he wrote me an email one night saying, I hate this is awful. And I decided I had to write him a letter by by six o'clock the next day, of course, myself. And then the ideas kept coming. So I ended up with this, what I call a mini book, which was just a philosophy of structuring the process of creativity in a way that you could embrace it, and see yourself inside it and see that you're normal. And that the feelings you have are part of being a special creative person. And there's things in there, which I wanted to share, learn from other people. So that's for free. I got I persuaded Michael, we see books can give it away. And

Alex Ferrari 1:31:51
that was a big, that's a big, that's a big ask.

Pen Densham 1:31:55
You know, what they see in this? Michael AC books is the best film book company in the world. Because they was Michael says, I will ask an author to write a book, I don't necessarily believe we'll sell profitably, but because I think this voice needs to be in the film community. And so instead of writing books that are like pro forma, which some companies do, you got to have these stereotypical stuffs in a book, he's asking his writers to find their own passion expressed through the book. And they're cool. So you can get if you go to writing the alligator.com, and doing my pitch, which I very seldom do, you can get led to both the download of a chapter, which is designed to inspire you to write, designed to take away that fear that you must do it in a certain process, but to actually embrace yourself as being the instrument and that you're entitled to allow that instrument to play itself as you discover it. And that, that again, is if I could tell if somebody ever gets up at an Oscar and says, You know, I read that chapter and it helped me I will be so proud.

Alex Ferrari 1:33:07
Pen It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you today it is you you've dropped all sorts of knowledge bombs on the tribe today and I truly truly appreciate you taking the time to to share your experience your and your knowledge and your wisdom with us. So thank you again for taking the time out. I truly appreciate it.

Pen Densham 1:33:26
Thank you so much. You're a great interview, and I enjoyed it. It was easy to do.

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IFH 632: Where to Make Money in Film Distribution 2023 with Linda Nelson

Linda Nelson began her career as an international investment banker, IT executive an entertainment real estate developer.  After meeting Michael Madison, she pivoted into the movie business finally realizing her artistic potential.   As an Executive Producer on NSYNC, she quickly realized that she was interested in being more “hands on” and was the DP for her next film, SHIFTED.

As a Producer on DELIVERED she was finally able to gain experience in all aspects of the financing, development, production and distribution phases of moviemaking.  In 2007, she co-founded Indie Rights with Michael Madison and has been active in distribution every since. Indie Rights now has a diverse catalog of more than 1,200 films and exhibits annually at Cannes and AFM.  The company enjoys direct relationships with all major streaming platforms.

Enjoy this conversation with Linda Nelson.

Linda Nelson 0:00
And then the other suggestion that can work. And we've been successful with this is to make two versions of your film, one for the regular streamers, and then another MP4 edited version for your YouTube channel. And sometimes it's just a matter of taking out too many F bombs.

Alex Ferrari 0:22
This episode is brought to you by the Best Selling Book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome back to the show returning champion, Linda Nelson. You're doing Linda?

Linda Nelson 0:39
I'm doing great, Alex, thanks so much for inviting me. It's always a pleasure to speak with you and your audience then yeah. Filmmakers say Oh, I heard you on Indie Film Hustle. It's great.

Alex Ferrari 0:56
I appreciate that. You were i? If I remember you were like episode 19. I think you were like, if I remember where you were in the teens first time. Yeah, the very first time which still gets listens, and still has great value in it, by the way. But now we're at episode was 620 something or other now. So it's been? And you've been on? I mean, you I mean, the record is still RB from stage 32. He's been on like 1314 times, well here, but you're up there. You're like I've been on four or five times at least. So we make it a yearly event at this point in the game. And it's always wonderful talking to you because you are in the in the trenches of indie distribution. And when I say indie distribution, I mean true indie distribution, not $5 million. And we've got Darren Aronofsky making your movie, we're talking about million dollar below half million dollar below kind of Indies, which is where the majority of independent film is, is right now. So my very first question to you is, what is the state of film distribution right now?

Linda Nelson 2:00
Well, I'm happy to say that I think it's the best it's ever been. And we are experiencing more and more people submitting films to us, you know, which I think means that more and more people are, you know, there's a constant new stream of filmmakers making independent films and interested in making films, which is fantastic. And I swear at least three times a week, I've got a new platform coming to me saying we want content from you, you know, and and part of that's because we have a very diverse catalogue. So if somebody, especially new channels that are launching, right, they can, you know, I have a pretty good choice of content that they want. So I you know, there have to be 2000 streaming channels out there now. So there's a huge opportunity, you know,

Alex Ferrari 2:56
So let me ask you about those other because I remember a couple of three years ago, four years ago, when I was little, I think the last fm before they went before the pandemic 20, I think was 2019 or 20. Yeah, 2019. What I was hearing OTT, OTT OTT, everyone was talking about OTT and these new streaming services coming over. What do you say? Do you see any major revenue coming in from those 2000? I mean, other than the majors, other than the big boys, like these independent streamers around the world, are you seeing any money coming in from them,

Linda Nelson 3:27
The one that we're seeing the most from, is actually YouTube. And we should, you know,

Alex Ferrari 3:38
I'm gonna tee you up on YouTube, don't worry, but I'm worried about this, independent ones,

Linda Nelson 3:43
Like YouTube, or Roku channels, you know, like, there's constant stream of, and not all, it used to be that Roku was the only option for these new channels, right? Roku box. And so there have been 1000 Roku channels for probably two years. But now all of a sudden, there's just as much activity going on with Amazon Fire, which is another little way to turn your regular television into a smart TV. And it's just like a USB stick that you stick into, you know, your TV, and it turns your TV into a smart TV. So all of these, you know, technological innovations are making it possible for a lot more people to enjoy streaming. And what's great about all of these channels is that there are now very specific channels for niche content, which you've always, you know, been a big proponent of understanding, you know, who your audience is, and, and understanding you know, that you need to find your audience, you know, for your needs. So, for example, like Deco is for LGBT, I mean, didn't exist a year ago a year ago. half ago, but now it's very popular. And so I'm getting whenever someone comes to me with an LGBT film, they said, Oh, can you get us on Deco. Right? So you know, so and there, we have a fishing channel, this become popular. So the channels that I think will succeed are ones that are very specific with their content, right, so that you can find them. And I think that what's going to happen is that there will be a huge consolidation of the generalized ones. And we're seeing that because like, you take, for example, Chicken Soup for the Soul. I don't know if you remember those books, they were so popular, there were about 20 Different chicken soup books, right? Well, they got into the video business and started buying up channels. And they now own screen media. With Jones crackle, and about, they've now got about 10 through MailChimp. So I think we're gonna see a big consolidation, you know, go on in the next two years, you know, and things will settle down right now. It's just like this crazy, you know? West? Yeah, Wild Wild West with tons of channels. And, and some of them, you know, occasionally one pops up, it's doing well, where Roku channel seems to be doing well. I think there's something very specific happening with like the major studios, because they were late getting into the game, they decided to buy or acquire existing successful channels, rather than start over and have to, you know, totally start from scratch. So you had first you had box by Tubi. Right. And so that was, you know, almost two years now. And but what we're seeing, and this makes can make it more difficult for independent films is that they are now loading up their star driven content onto to be and that is pushing down the indie content. So it just means that the indie filmmakers have got to work a little harder to make it into the carousels, the various carousels on the channel, you know, so that they can get discovered, or they have to do more direct marketing with links, you know, to their content. So it's getting a little bit harder, you know, to find some of our films to be, and I think the same thing is gonna happen with Vudu. So universal via Fandango, purchase Vudu from Walmart, and that same thing, and it's just because they want to have a bunch of bills, they know, the advertisers are, you know, are putting their ads, you know, on these channels, and it's a replacement for old fashioned television, except that you just get to watch what you want to watch when you want to watch it. You don't need a TV guy, you just you know, are you gonna be swiping through, you know, all of the posters, and we'll talk about that.

Alex Ferrari 8:16
So, you know, right now, the thing I always tell people is that the main money for independent films, unless it's a certain budget range, and a certain caste is AVOD, AVOD is where most of the money is being made. Unless you can drive traffic, if you can drive traffic TVOD still, somewhat, and we'll talk about TVOD in a minute, as far as we'll talk about in a minute as well. But AVOD is the place where most independent filmmakers are making their money. Now, if you've got Bruce Willis in your movie, or Nicolas Cage in a movie that's in a different stratosphere, and that's a different conversation, based on certain budgets and certain cast a vote is the best. Is that what you're finding right now?

Linda Nelson 8:56
It is, we we are seeing very few films be successful on TV. We have two right now that have made like 20 30,000 in a month, but it's because they had it's, it's one it's not their first film. And, you know, and that's a discussion in and of itself about building a body of work, you know, so because they have that experience and and, and they're on their third or fourth film. They have an existing audience that's waiting for their next film. So they've been able to really capitalize on that and do well on TVOD, first, that run usually doesn't last more than I would say, three, four months at the most, and then they'll start to trickle down. So what we do is we really carefully monitor the TVOD. And if we see nothing in the first month, we're turning SVOD if we can and And AVOD, also, but if it's going if it's going well, we'll leave it just on Teavana until the revenue gets down to under five grand a month. So we want to, you know, kind of milk that for all we can while it lasts. Yeah, it doesn't happen often.

Alex Ferrari 10:22
Right! And it's it again, it's because those those filmmakers are driving traffic, they understand how to market how to drink. Even I hadn't. I had Mark Toya on the show, who made monsters of man. And he made I think he's at the six or $7 million mark at this point. But he understands. And he had a million dollar movie with no stars in it. But he understands how to market an action, an action movie about robots in the jungle. And he was able to, and he did it so well, that he's still making money every month. He's pulling 50 60,000 on a bot and he still does TVOD as well. But he knew how to drive that traffic with Facebook ads and YouTube ads, and that kind of stuff. But that's an anomaly. You know, it's not, it was I mean, I had I had Michael polish on years ago, in the first 100 episodes, and he made a half a million on TVOD, off of a movie called for lovers only. But it was 2010. Yeah, I mean, in iTunes was just starting. And he had a face of a of an actress who was you know, she was just starting out on a big show on castle and it just was this whirlwind. But it was a different time that movie comes out today. I don't think TV ads will make half. Yeah, it's just a different world. So really quick, because I know we're throwing around terms that a lot of people understand. For everybody understand TVOD is transactional video on demand. AVOD is advertising video on demand. And SVOD is subscription video on demand. And transactional means rental purchase, things like that. AVOD has ads and subscriptions, Netflix and Amazon, those kinds of Hulu and those kinds of packages. Which brings me to my next question in the AVOD space, because I know this has jumped back and forth a bunch, you know, Pluto to be. And YouTube, which was gonna talk about, where are you seeing the biggest? The biggest returns right now in the AVOD space? And where do you see it going? In the next year or two? If you have that, if you can look in a crystal ball?

Linda Nelson 12:22
Oh, sure. Sure. Well, right now, I have to say Tubi, but it is for kind of specific content. It's urban, it's crime, right? We do not have Doc's doing well, on Tubi, for example, you know, so that, you know, is providing the largest, you know, revenue.

Alex Ferrari 13:13
We're on Tubi. Yeah. So let me let me ask real quick, I mean, me ask you about Tubi and this is something so so filmmakers listen to can understand the mentality about Tubi Tubi is a free service. So the customer base on a free service is going to probably be lower to middle income, kind of people, generally speaking, is that because the kind of movies

Linda Nelson 13:38
But more and more people are saying, Oh, I watch movies on Tubi all the time. Me personally, I don't like to be interrupted with ads. But there are a lot of people that grew up with regular television, and they're used to getting up and going to the restroom or grabbing a snack and they don't, doesn't bother. So I initially thought that, but I'm not of that persuasion anymore. And also, I think the fact that they now have a lot of star driven content on the channel, right, that is also changing that.

Alex Ferrari 14:16
Well, isn't it but so so what happened to to be is exactly what happened in the VHS market. Because originally the VHS market, the studios were staying away from VHS, because they're like, no, no, no, we don't want to do it. And then the boys like Canon and trauma and new world came in to fill up the content space. But as soon as the studio said, Oh, well let's throw in our stuff. Their back catalogue stuff come in. And then as you know, the cannon boys went under new worlds kind of did the thing drama can but they all dropped because now they had competitions from Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and all these big stars. So that's what's happening now.

Linda Nelson 14:49
It is, and it's why I think that for indies, more niche channels are going to grow and become Um, you know, better providers, you know, revenue, as long as they can survive, I mean, we'll see in the next couple of years are going to be who which of these channels that are still truly indie, you know, are going to survive, and there will be, there'll be a number of them, maybe we'll have five, maybe we'll have 10. But also, what's happening with those is that some of them are going global. And that's really affecting the whole marketplace, too. And markets below market. So we can talk about that a little bit. But I mean, like, you take, for example, the Roku channel, they're planning on going global global, free V, which is Amazon's AVR channel is planning on going global. And that's going to change things, too, you know, and Europe is starting to catch up. One of our big goals at the market this year is to make sure we are connecting to the best streamer in every territory, so that we can get content, you know, in all of the foreign territories. So it's just happening now they're way behind the United States.

Alex Ferrari 16:15
So that's a good question, then if the if Oh, if, let's say free because no freebies in, I think the UK, they're started, they're launching in the UK soon. And they're starting to roll out. I've heard freebies a good place to right now for AVOD. It's like up there with with to be. But if these big channels start to go,

Linda Nelson 16:37
I'm wondering, just stick something in there because I don't want to forget about it. freebie is paying 10 cents an hour period.

Alex Ferrari 16:44
Yeah, that's good.

Linda Nelson 16:48
But it's not dependent on the number of ad impressions. Right, the way the way all the other avons pay you a specific rate based on 1000 ad impressions.

Alex Ferrari 17:00
So it's a different model, it's just a completely different model. So So if these these companies start going global, that that's going to affect the markets, that means you can't sell to Germany, because your film might already be in Germany, because you are able to place it in Germany. So you're going to get more money out of your own placement in Germany, or you're going to make more money selling it to the guy or gal who, you know, can put it in Germany, like how has that changed the dynamics of the markets and Jen being able to sell internationally,

Linda Nelson 17:31
It's really changing it, because we are we have now started turning down some all rights deals in territories. Because we feel we can make more revenue streaming. And as, as some of these bigger streamers, like Roku channel, freebie, become global, and accepted, you know, in the same way that it took Netflix a number of years, right? To go global and be global and all of these territories, you know, it's gonna take some time for the indie streamers to mature in the marketplace, too. But as that starts to happen, more and more, they will all right, deals are not going to be as valuable, I don't think and you know, so those deals have tended to go down in value anyway. Right? And so yeah,

Alex Ferrari 18:31
It's that the 50,000 or $100,000 buyer used to get it now

Linda Nelson 18:35
They're like 15 20 for is good. So, but also it means that we have to really watch, you know, what's happening in in these territories streaming was the thing that's really important for distributors now and this is it has been pivotal for us is that you have really great rights management software, you know, like for us, all of our content now lives in the cloud. And we have it all. Every time we make a sale, it's marked for that country so that when somebody comes to us and ask for a list of films that are available for their territory, we can do it just like that, and deliver just like that. Whereas before, it would take a lot of research and digging through contracts to figure out okay, what films are available for which territories right? It was a little done by hand and on spreadsheets for years. But now, you know, people are starting to the technology is good enough to be able to do that. So for distributors, those distributors that are going to survive are the ones that can really manage their rights effectively. So

Alex Ferrari 19:51
So so when, because I remember when we were doing our deals back in the day for my couple films. You were saying like yeah, we're not going to sell to Australia because because we already have it on Amazon and the Australian guys, unless it's a special deal, we'll make more money, just because they're going to do they're going to put it up on Amazon. So we'll we'll just keep that money. Would it make sense then would you be set? Would you be interested in selling other rights in those territories like cable things, that theatrical things like that

Linda Nelson 20:22
Broadcast airlines, ships, most, most of the films that we have are, you know, are not going to go theatrical, they're just not big enough budget, like you said, you know, but But it's rising, we're starting to now kind of our upper limit is like 3 million, where it used to be 1 million, were the hit, we're starting to get a little bit better quality films and start to see, you know, some people like we just got a fantastic doc, that features Colin Farrell, who made a football team out of homeless people in Ireland, and it's fantastic, you know, some of you know, the more we can do that the better relationships, we're gonna be able to build with, you know, broadcasters. So opening up more for us than it was in the past.

Alex Ferrari 21:20
So let me ask you this, though. And I want this few people to really pick up open up the ears with this. You know, star power is still star power. The only thing that trumps star power is niche. And the niche has to be executed almost perfectly. And there's a lot of work to do that boat. Right now. As you see that those those carousels, those, those thumbnails go by, you stopped generally, when there's a star that you recognize is that Is that still true at any budget range, almost

Linda Nelson 21:55
100%. And it's like, when we got that film with Colin Farrell, and there was no picture of Colin, on the post. It may have been his personal preference to say, No, I want spotlight on me, I want the spotlight on the team, you know, but we were able to, you know, change our landscape posters and have him, you know, good picture of his face with a couple of team members and stuff. And it makes a huge difference. It really, really does. And also, star star power is important. And the niche thing. Just the the matter. Is there a big niches and

Alex Ferrari 22:44
The basketball movies not that big of a deal.

Linda Nelson 22:46
No, or it's always like if you have a movie about baseball, that's huge. You know, we have a baseball film that just did tremendously well, because of that. And but, you know, for example, you know, LGBT, you get really specific niche there, and it's only about trans, it's, that niche is much smaller, right? So baseball, the baseball, so we'd have to really work a lot harder, you know, at connect. So, you know, yes, mission is important. But yeah, to be sure that, you know, you're gonna be able to connect to that audience. And then one of the crossovers, I mean, we've we've had some films that start out with a small niche, and because the film was so good, it expands. And it's interesting to a broader audience.

Alex Ferrari 23:39
And I know a lot a large part of your catalogue, you've really focused on urban films, and films that aim at that demographic, that niche audience, and they've done exceptionally well with no star power. And sometimes, you know, I've seen some of the trailers, I'm like, how much did they make this for? Like, what it's being watched? How much like it's not, you know, it's not like high end, you know, giant but big budget productions, but they understand their audience. So Well, I mean, it's what Tyler Perry. I mean, exactly. It's exactly what Tyler Perry did. He's like, he knows his audience. You know, the Madea movies when they were starting out. We're not huge budget films, and they don't look like they're huge budget films. But he does good money. He's done. Okay, that's Tyler Perry. He's done.

Linda Nelson 24:29
Some amazing studio in Atlanta.

Alex Ferrari 24:32
Oh, I know. It's stunning. But so you've noticed that in the urban space, that's, that's an example of a niche, which is very large and still underserved. Am I correct?

Linda Nelson 24:47
Um, it's becoming less so because it's incredible. How many people you know like in Detroit, Lana? I'm Michigan, la. It's a new way besides music to try and make a name for yourself. And so because the costs of making a film has come down so much, because I mean, we just got to film yesterday where the film was shot on an iPhone, because the new iPhone creates does Pro Res files. Yeah. Stunning. You know, so it just the cost has come down. And so like people would start young, and they can really create a name for themselves. I mean, we've got we have filmmakers from Detroit that started when they were, you know, like, I don't know, 1820 years old. Now. They got five jobs under their belt, and the productions look really good. Out there, we have a new series coming out that that the filmmaker feels is almost comparable to the wire. Okay, so we'll see. Right? I mean, a lot of times people think they're, you know,

Alex Ferrari 26:15
You been crazy, crazy filmmakers to think that they're the next Spielberg. No, that never happened. There's no egos in our business, Linda, come on.

Linda Nelson 26:24
So I just there's a lot more urban content, and we have more competition. There was a time when I think we were kinda like the pioneers in the beginning, you know, for that, and we helped a lot of companies grow. And so now it's interesting. There are several distributors that are focusing on every company.

Alex Ferrari 26:44
Now as there is as far a thing anymore because so many things that people young filmmakers, especially in these 500 million, or below, they're like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon by I've haven't even heard of Amazon buying an indie film anytime in recent years. What what are you seeing? Because I know you have like, I remember you did that. It was at the blockbuster, the Netflix documentary that got sold off. But that's such a specific thing. In the in the s VOD space, are you seeing s5 deals? And if you are, what kind of deals are you seeing?

Linda Nelson 27:18
What are you seeing? We're seeing as pod deals that are nice specific, like that fishing channel, right? There is a sports channel. That's, you know, so we're seeing some very niche specific as far channels. As far as the big guys go, Netflix, as far as we're concerned is not for indie films. Our level then develops, it just isn't they won't pay you enough. And they will require so much exclusivity that you blown it, everybody's seen it. And you pay no money. I mean, even you know, like, I mean, we had one filmmaker who had a font of $250,000 film waited almost a year for his offer from Netflix, they kept promising, promising, promising and they kept telling keeping us on hold for a year. Finally, the offer came through 35,000. Okay, so it was broken. What did you notice? You know, so I mean, it's just, it's just not worth it's a waste your time they want to. So that's the biggest VOD, that's still there. Hulu is, is add support now. You know, it's a combination, they have three different tiers. Right. But they're only doing original content now. When I buy but the same was Netflix saying, you know,

Alex Ferrari 28:45
What, I actually got I sold this as made before this has made came to you I sold this is Meg to Hulu and, and in 2017. That never would happen to them in a million years, because it

Linda Nelson 28:58
Delivered whistled, went to Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 29:01
It was just a different place back then. And it's just, it's just remarkable now. Yeah, cuz that's fine. It's just this big thing that everyone always talks about. And I just wanted to kind of debunk that you were gonna say,

Linda Nelson 29:12
Well, there's there's two other things Netflix is adding in November an AVOD.

Alex Ferrari 29:19
Of course, has to have to wrap an option. Yeah, of course, they have to.

Linda Nelson 29:24
And then prime. Ah, I still in my head. I'm thinking Amazon wants to move most of brought prime over to 3d. But still, we have a number of films that have good enough customer engagement. I mean, I'm, I even have people come to me say, Oh, don't put me on, you know, Amazon Prime because it's only a penny an hour. Well, no, it's at the penny an hour if you do nothing and don't promote the film. Yes. But for our filmmakers that work on promoting the films getting reviews, the way You know, we teach them, then they have a car in the 90s and 12 cents an hour. So which is, which is good.

Alex Ferrari 30:13
But isn't it sad Linda, though, like you've been in the game long enough to remember when you could actually make more than 12 cents. For one on one. I understand. But you remember when they were you were making 3.99? Oh, yeah, for a rental or 9.99 or, or God forbid a DVD at $20 per per purchase.

Linda Nelson 30:33
You know, it's, it's only four or five years since then, that iTunes was the top revenue producer for us. It was all paid transactional. And that's because there was the slow transition from the video store to streaming. Right. So the only advantage to like iTunes, and Amazon TVOD, was you didn't have to get in your car and go to Blockbuster. Right, that was the advantage. So you will still use the paying 3.99 4.99 to rent a DVD for the weekend, you know, and we used to all go to the, you know, the video store and pick up three or four movies for the weekend. I mean, it was you know,

Alex Ferrari 31:18
We're dating ourselves. We're dating ourselves.

Linda Nelson 31:23
So that, and slowly that has transitioned to the fact where people don't want to pay for it anymore. They just don't want to pay unless Tom Cruise's in it or,

Alex Ferrari 31:34
You know, but that's like one movie like Top Gun is an anomaly. Like, that's such an anomaly, because I actually paid for that movie. Like I watched in the theater. Yeah. And then when it came out, I was like, I'm buying it. Because it's such an amazing, I want to see it on my surround sound at all and all that stuff. But that's rare. You know, now minor movies come out. And unless it's a Marvel movie that I really, really want to go see. I'm like, Ah, it's gonna be on Disney plus in two months, I'll wait. And then I can see it at home. And my surround sound like it for me doesn't doesn't do it for me as much as it used to. And I think that kids Exactly.

Linda Nelson 32:11
Have to take kids to the theater now.

Alex Ferrari 32:14
It's yeah, it's still Yeah, I mean, you take take Top Gun and all the Marvel movies out of the theatrical experience last year? And what does it what is? What is what do they have? Really, it's gonna be a tough now, it's not what it used to be without any question. Now. You mentioned this little new company called YouTube. That's coming up. And I've, I've seen firsthand, I've had other people on the show talking about it. You mentioned that thing in our last conversation, and people, filmmakers, the filmmaking snobs, if you will, because we're all again, we're all geniuses. All of our work is Oscar worthy. I understand that. And when you hear the word YouTube, you're like, you want to put me up next to cat videos. That's ridiculous. Tell everybody the truth of what kind of revenue is being generated on YouTube right now?

Linda Nelson 33:11
Well, we have a comedy special that made $30,000 last month

Alex Ferrari 33:22
On your YouTube channel.

Linda Nelson 33:25
Okay. And, you know, it's interesting. Still, like you're talking about, almost, you know, almost all of our filmmakers, when they first come to us, they're like, oh, no, please don't put my movie on YouTube. It's too good to be way too good. And it's just that, I think for the most part, filmmakers don't stay on top of what's going on in the industry. Right. So which is why I think it's like, really important for filmmakers to allocate a little time, you know, like each week just to see what's going on in the industry, because it is constantly changing. And it seems to be changing more rapidly now than ever. There. This whole new concept of MCN, which are multi channel networks, has actually been around for probably about more than 10 years. Would you say, Michael? Because Disney was the first big MCN you know, pay yo lot of money for

Alex Ferrari 34:33
Maker maker, Maker

Linda Nelson 34:34
Studio. And so so they've been around for a long time, but it's kind of been under the radar because YouTube people don't see YouTube as being comparable to universal, or Paramount or Warner Brothers or even Netflix. But now,

Alex Ferrari 34:56
They're, they're bigger than all of them.

Linda Nelson 34:59
Bigger than all All together 2.6 billion active users. That's a lot of eyeballs. And we really think within not this year, but by the end of next year, that they will be the largest broadcaster of independent film. No question. I believe I believe that. And, and what's there's so many advantages of, you know, having your content there, 90, okay, we have a channel. And we really just started building our channel in January or February, right, really building it, we've always had one, we used to use it just to book trailers on it. And then the trailers would have a link to where you could rent to be or Amazon or eBay or Amazon or whatever. And then then we we realized that when the bigger MC ends, were coming to us asking us for content, whoa, what's going on here? Right? So we have a partnership with Valley arms, Valley arm is out of Australia. And they're one of the largest MCS and they were really smart, they set up all of these different specific niche channels. So they have movies, I think their main channel is called Movie Central. And then there's movie central horror movie central drama movie central sci fi, movie central Doc's. Right. And so if you look up movie Central, you'll see they have like, 11 channels. And so they market those channels. So there's very specific places for people to see, you know, the content. And not only that you to actually markets that are not their algorithm, push 95% of our views come from recommendations from Google, just naturally through the algorithm, not the filmmakers, only 5% comes from the filmmakers directly saying, I think there's still some resistance to people's watch my movie, I do, too. But I think they'll get over that quickly.

Alex Ferrari 37:21
That's a brand new, it's a brand new thing.

Linda Nelson 37:23
You get to see our reports. So when you see the next set of reports, you know, not so much this one, because we just started really in January, February, but we for four or five years, we had only 10,000 subscribers, right? Well, now we have a quarter of a million, right? Just just this year. And and it's and it's going really, really well. So we we start we're now starting our movies on our YouTube channel, and that's indie rights movies for free. And but we also work with three MC ns, we work with JUNGO TV, and they have a couple of channels. And the films are getting millions of views. And and it's it's amazing. They, the MC ends actually have a special relationship with Google where Google gives them more more information and features than just a regular individual YouTube user has.

Alex Ferrari 38:28
So and so everybody listening, thinking like okay, great. I'm just gonna put my movie up on YouTube, like, no, no, it hasn't worked out you need you need that you need to have a channel that's monetized. First of all, what should you need over 1000 subscribers and 4000 hours of watch within a 12 month period.

Linda Nelson 38:44
A lot of subscribers,

Alex Ferrari 38:46
A lot of subscribers, isn't going to do it. So but I've been looking, I started doing a lot of research into these MCS and it was pretty interesting to see, I mean, some of these 345 7 million 10 million subscribers. So you're thinking about that you're like, Well, if you just put a movie up, you know, if a percent you know, or 5% or 10% Watch, you know right away and then that algorithm starts kicking in and if it's something that's niche, then it goes into the niche, all algorithms and if you know what you're doing on YouTube and how to optimize it, and also one thing that's really interesting to the CPMs are high much higher the highest much on Amazon much higher than to be even right yes, it's just volume right now. So it's just coming up. Now do you believe this is really interesting because the studios haven't done this yet. Studios have they're scared to to jump in they'll put their movies up for rental on YouTube. They what I've seen is the clips they do a lot of the clips of you know Famous Movies so you'll and that's been going on for a while. Do you think that they're going to open up?

Linda Nelson 39:53
They already are they already are there several studios that are putting their content up

Alex Ferrari 39:58
Like Lionsgate I'm sure Lionsgate will do the same.

Linda Nelson 40:01
I have to go back and look, but we research that too. And they're they're starting to do it, they realized, due to

Alex Ferrari 40:09
There's a lot of value, there's a lot of eyeballs there

Linda Nelson 40:11
6 Billion eyeballs, there's plenty of room for us there.

Alex Ferrari 40:18
But it's also what you've done is interesting because you're creating your own CPM. So that means that your audience, your subscribers of free of charge are going to your channel, so your content is going to be seen up there first.

Linda Nelson 40:31
And we're not splitting that revenue with anyone else, if we were put our movies up to an MCN they're automatically taking half of the revenue. And so then we are paying our filmmakers, 80% of half of the revenue, whereas the stuff that's on our channel, they're getting 80% Of all the revenue, which is great. And the other thing that is so incredible about YouTube, is the analytics are beyond belief. So tell you cities what cities are watching it. So you can focus your, your marketing, they tell you what city, they tell you what age what gender it's, the demographics are beyond like, nobody, nobody else does that. I mean, I can't tell you, how many finally to be now has a new portal for distributors. And we can see by territory, but up till, you know, a couple of months, July 1, they opened a new portal to us so we can see what you know, what's selling in Mexico with selling in the US with selling in Australia and New Zealand? So. So I think, like I said, as these channels go global, there's gonna be more and more opportunity and, and hopefully, we'll get more demographic information like for Amazon, we only know by country.

Alex Ferrari 41:57
Yeah, it's a slightly different mindset because YouTube is democratic. There's, I mean, YouTube is essentially a social media platform mixed with a video platform. So there, Alan analytics are crazy. And they want their creators to have as much information as possible so they can continue to create. So it's like a perfect storm. So you guys have essentially become your own platform. And you're an a distributor as well. So yeah, hopefully one day you have 10 million subscribers, and you just sit there and like, you know what, we're just putting it up on our channel, nobody else is gonna pay us enough. We're just doing that. And we'll just split that with you. And that might be Now one other thing, though. So if you obviously if you have an exclusive rights to the movie, nobody else can put it up on YouTube, other than you. So there's only one copy of that floating around. But if you're working with other MCs, how does that work? If there's two of the same movie going on?

Linda Nelson 42:48
No, no. They currently YouTube is allowing multiple copies. Movie, we, they whitelist us we have what's called Content ID and and so like we Valley arm, they whitelist us so we're allowed to put the same content that they have. We've heard you know, whispers that eventually, that YouTube's not going to want to have competing channels

Alex Ferrari 43:18
Competing.

Linda Nelson 43:21
Yeah, well, the channels are competing. But the same movie, the same exact movie. So so but that has not happened yet. You know, and if it does, they're going on our channel.

Alex Ferrari 43:34
Right! Because you control it, you control it. And you're, you're growing it at such a rapid rate. Because you're offering basically free movies to an international market. And then you could also do translations to other languages. If you want and target those, there's so many different things, but you're in complete control of it, you're not dealing.

Linda Nelson 43:51
And what's great is it's so simple just to geoblocked. So say we have a film and we've already sold it to Germany and Malaysia. And, and Taiwan. Then when we're setting that up on our YouTube channel, we just blocked blocked those territories. So, you know, so, again, it's that rights management issue is really, really important.

Alex Ferrari 44:15
I mean, I've been yelling it from the top of the mountain, that YouTube's the future, and people are like, You're crazy. I'm like, no, no, I've been a YouTuber for for over seven years as well. So I've seen what happened on my own YouTube channel. And then I started talking to other people who have MC M's that have done very, very well and are continuing to do very, very well. And so let me ask you, then what do you see around the corner? In your eyes? Do you see? I mean, obviously YouTube is going to be I think you I think you're right YouTube's going to take over, as far as independent films are concerned generate revenue generation for independent films, generally speaking. Do you see something else coming around the corner that that you're hearing whispers of?

Linda Nelson 44:59
Well, No one for the first time in in July, streaming surpassed broadcasts in revenue for the first time. You know, and it's it's actually taken longer than I thought, I 10 years ago, I would have said five years. And but it's taken 10 years, you know, for it to happen. But the rate of decline is getting faster now. So, I think you'll see very quickly that that traditional broadcast cable is just going to disappear,

Alex Ferrari 45:39
Or go into like HBO Max, or go into

Linda Nelson 45:43
Your streaming

Alex Ferrari 45:45
There's not going to be broadcast as much. I mean, we will come we will come to a time where broadcast is gone.

Linda Nelson 45:53
The things that may say although prop, maybe not because of the internet is, you know, like sports, live events.

Alex Ferrari 46:03
But that was that's an Amazon Prime.

Linda Nelson 46:05
Exactly. So there's no football. Yeah, I mean, I we watched the Formula One races on, you know, over the internet streaming on YouTube TV,

Alex Ferrari 46:17
ESPN plus, that's it that's streaming now to like, there's a lot of these, these channels are

Linda Nelson 46:24
For the foreseeable future, I see streaming. I'm, I'm not real hot. This virtual stuff that's going on. Like we actually, we actually have a movie streaming in a virtual theater in decentraland. Okay, right. Yeah. So there's virtual lands out there, where people are, oh, this isn't shops and stuff. And, you know, like, so you can meet people, you know, with your avatar and go together to a movie theater and watch one of our movies in a virtual thing. But I just, I don't see that.

Alex Ferrari 47:04
She said famously, on this episode, and then five years from now, I was so wrong. We're making millions off this virtual crap. You don't know. But you know what, like, if you would have told me about that whole virtual reality, like, look, it's you know, it's it's old, as old as is video games themselves. But it's turning into I mean, people are buying virtual real estate on certain platforms, like,

Linda Nelson 47:27
Oh, J Central, and that that's, there's land for sale there where you could build a building and you don't have a business and it's insane. It is. It's insane. It reminds the use of Sim was it sim city

Alex Ferrari 47:41
Sims. Yeah, it was SimCity. The Sims, The Sims? Yeah,

Linda Nelson 47:44
I did that back every time. And I tried to go back and think why did that not really catch on? Yeah. Maybe it was just the internet wasn't fast enough or good enough back then. So. So I don't see that happening. I just think we're going to be living in a streaming world, that there are going to be a number that there will be a mass consolidation. You know, so, but that the ones that survive will either be the big boys, or very specific, niche content, platforms streaming. And you know what, it's gonna settle down. And there's a million things bubbling up there right now, but it's gonna settle down. And then there's gonna be, you know, maybe there'll be two or 300 channels the same way. There was on cable. If you think back, you know, when cable

Alex Ferrari 48:40
Oh, my God, you're hundreds of cable channels.

Linda Nelson 48:43
Right. And then, you know, but it settled down to, you know, some reasonable amount that people said, Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 48:50
As opposed to like, 500. Yeah, it was. It was insane.

Linda Nelson 48:54
I think we'll see the same thing happened with streaming.

Alex Ferrari 48:58
So will you guys went to Cannes this year? What was it? What did you see there? And what did you see differently? And obviously, it was I think there was the first one since the pandemic, right. So what did you see?

Linda Nelson 49:10
We saw less people, less buyers, less exhibitors. And I think that the reason for that well, one, there was still some countries that couldn't participate. So I think the real Bill whether is going to be AFM this year, but already I can see that there are only about 200 exhibitors so far. Normally, there's

Alex Ferrari 49:43
Yeah, well, I mean, you can't compare compare it. You can't compare to pre pandemic times, but from what I'm hearing, because I'll be at AFM this year and I'm working closely with those guys and they're telling me the numbers and they are some big studios are showing up so that's that's nice. So that They say that's what they say that they've signed up and people are buying. But it is a shorter AFM, it is more condensed. They are focusing it more now from what I understand to the independent filmmaker, or independent producers showing up as opposed to distributors and buyers as much showing up. So they're doing a lot more education. They're trying to try to pivot a bit, because a lot of that business can be done, arguably online, because it was done for the last two years online. So it's weird. So I'm really curious to see what it's going to be like, at AFM this year.

Linda Nelson 50:36
Yes, and all and also AFM is doing what Ken did. And that is to allow exhibitors to not have an office in the venue, main venue. And I really think that's a bad idea and counter to their survival. So there are a number of companies and that are having their office in the condo they're renting. Right. Any, any presence in the actual building itself? And I think it's very bad for the market. But yeah, and so they're getting all the benefits, you know, we're we have to pay a lot of money to have an office in the in the hotel, right? Who else would have to pay the $3,500, you know, kind of registration for the company, they're getting away with just paying that. And they still get all the benefit of being in you know, and printed catalogs, being able to do screenings, and being able to walk around and, you know, meet everybody in the venue. So, I don't know, I just didn't think it was a very good idea. So I think, you know, I think in the end, it's gonna hurt them. Because I don't know, I don't, if they're going to be working towards, you know, producers going to visit people, if there's less people to visit, how do you promote that? Right? And we're not seeing a lot of pre sale. Activity,

Alex Ferrari 52:15
It's gonna be, it's gonna be interesting. It's gonna be an interesting market, to say the least the first one that we're

Linda Nelson 52:21
Gonna have our normal wine and cheese party on Friday night. You're welcome.

Alex Ferrari 52:27
I'm not sure I'll be there on Friday night. But I will be there a little bit because I got kids, and there's Halloween coming up. So I'm not sure what the days are. But I'll be there.

Linda Nelson 52:37
Halloween is our setup day?

Alex Ferrari 52:39
So I'll be there. I think the second through the fourth, that's I'm going to be there during those times, because I'm speaking on the third there. So that'll be the night of the third, we will come we will we will we will definitely connect no question. Now. What else kind of debunk this because so many filmmakers still believe this as a truth. And it's not in my opinion. I'd love to hear yours. Film Festivals. What does it actually mean to you guys? What does it actually mean to a distributor and like, obviously, if you win Sundance and South by, it's great. It's nice. I'd like to win South by or Sundance, but it doesn't have the juice that it used to have. That in my opinion. So what's your opinion on film festivals? And how does that affect your acquisition? And how does it affect sales if any.

Linda Nelson 53:24
If you don't get in like one of the top 10 I would then only do maybe one or two local regional festivals, you know, so close to where you live, so that you don't spend a lot of money on it. It's, it's not worth it. The smaller ones, it's nice to, you know, again, have a couple of laurels. But now that everything is streaming platforms won't let us put laurels on the posters

Alex Ferrari 54:00
I haven't seen.

Linda Nelson 54:02
We I think it is Amazon loving us know, everyone knows stripping off. You know, we have to strip laurels off posters, that used to be the big advantage is it go put the laurels on your post, you can still know what we suggest to people to do is, you know, when you have your trailer have a screen one of the you know, screens so your laurels, you know so you know it can have a little value. But like I said if you don't get in the top 10 do one or two local. And that's it because what we've seen happen is filmmakers they get on this run and we have one film that went to like 25 festivals. Well by the time they got through it that the film's two years old because people have a very bad habit of saying they're premieres when they premiered a festival. Your film is not released It's not premiering till it's in release. Right? And so filmmakers have got to stop doing that on IMDb, because everybody there that looks at our films, looks at IMDb to see what year it was produced. And I've lost three sales.

Alex Ferrari 55:18
Because Because of that, yeah, and it's again, and I think that's a holdover from the 90s. And it's a holdover from that, that era of like, Oh, you've got to be in Sundance or South buyer, Tribeca, and all those are wonderful. But if you've got a movie with no stars in it, and if it's not the proper genre, and you happen to win one of those festivals, which I've been part of those movies, and I've seen those firsthand. It doesn't sell it just won't sell just because Sundance is aren't you won some award at Sundance, unless it's a proper niche, proper genre, or has some talent. Yeah, like, you know, oh, Palm Springs sold for 17 point 5 million. I'm like, yeah, it had Andy Samberg and JK Simmons. Are you kidding me? Like, come on, like that was done already. And that was a that was a, that was a deal beforehand, almost. But it's just I just wanted to kind of debunk that for filmmakers listening that don't waste your time. Waiting a year to funny.

Linda Nelson 56:17
Oh, marketing.

Alex Ferrari 56:20
I mean, it's but that's but and this is something that I know you deal with a lot you and Michael deal with a lot, Linda is emotion. Because you This is such an emotional product. It's not cookies, it's not stationery, it's not staplers. It's not printers. This is art that someone has put their heart and soul into. And now they give it to you to do the business with. But then they have these delusions in their head or misunderstandings about how the business is run, that they have expectations. Like I just talked to some some guy the other day. And he's like, Yeah, I have this horror movie I looked at the horror movie has no stars in it nicely produced, but nothing, you know, out of this world. And I said, Look, you know, go to Linda, go to give you two or three distributors that I recommend for this kind of budget. And it was done for like sub 100,000. And he you know, I sent them to a distributor distributor called me he's like the dude says he's he's expecting 600k because someone told them it was 600k. I'm like, Are you out of your ignore him? Ignore him. He's crazy. But that's the thing. And then that craziness will last about six months to a year, until they figure out oh, wait a minute, nobody's really going to give me 600k For this, no one's gonna give me 100k For this, hey, no one's gonna give me any k for this. I'm just gonna donate this to somebody. So essentially, where it gets, you know, and that's so do you, how do you deal with the emotions of the insanity that is being a filmmaker, because you guys are filmmakers yourself. So you guys are a little insane as well.

Linda Nelson 57:53
We are and we're getting ready to go into production on a film of our own. So, you know,

Alex Ferrari 58:00
You know a good distributor?

Linda Nelson 58:05
And, you know, it's very interesting, because I would say at least, at least half of the filmmakers that come to us that we decide to work with have over valued ideas of their film. And, and, you know, I mean, it's, it's like for, and they've done some things that have really almost kind of self sabotage them from the beginning. You know, like making a film in black and white, or an indie film with no names in it, you stay away from black and white. We've not been successful with one black and white film. And right now it's a reason for us to just not take a film. And that's it. That's a shame. The other thing is, for some reason, indie filmmakers think they have to be super edgy. Right? They have to have sex in it, and you know, and really extreme violence and show everything. You don't have to show everything you could be like Hitchcock, right hate, and you know, like, just see the blood going down the drain. And we know somebody's been stepped up. You know, and that's particularly true when it comes to Amr. And this is something that people don't think about when they're when they're shooting their film and figuring out their shots and what they're going to show on the screen and what they're not. It's critical that you don't have excessive drugs, sex, profanity, because YouTube view advertisers won't put their ads on your content. Probably half of our libraries unsuitable for ads, which is a shame. But we'd like everybody still to be able to go on our YouTube channel, but we just can't because they get denied. So, every filmmaker before they pick their shots and do their shot list, go on YouTube and look at their community guidelines. And read them, they're pretty clear, they are very, they give very specific examples of what you know, you know, what, what's acceptable and what's not. So really think about, you know, where's your drone going to wind up. And it's not, you know, I mean, artists don't usually, they're not trained to think that way, or they're not trained at all, they just don't normally think that way. But if you want, if you want success in the business, and you want to stay in the business, then you need to make films that have a chance of being successful. And that your films are really good, they're going to be successful. So it's not like you're doing it for the money, you're not doing it for the wrong reason. But but but you do, there are certain things that you have to keep in mind. You know, when you're writing, if you're a writer, or if you're the cinematographer, the director, you know, how you're going to shoot and stuff really, really. And then the other suggestion that can work. And we've been successful with this is to make two versions of your film, one for the regular streamers, and then another MP for edited version for YouTube channel. And, and sometimes it's just a matter of taking out 20 F bombs. Right. We had one movie that turned down for moaning. They didn't even show, you know, the simulated sex, but there was a lot of moaning

Alex Ferrari 1:01:45
Apparently a lot, a lot.

Linda Nelson 1:01:48
And so, they soon as I took the morning out, it passed. So anyway, so it's something to keep in mind when you're, you know, when you're shooting your own.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:05
And you know, you know what a lot of people are like, Oh, but I'm an artist, I don't have to do them. Like, look, Scorsese couldn't get taxi driver through the the boards to get an R rating. Because of obviously taxi drivers have been violent. Even even for the 70s it was a bit violent. And all he did was desaturate the blood in the color to in the color timing. Wow. And because he desaturated the blood, it passed. Everyone's got to deal with with censorship in that sense. Because look, this is just the world we live in. If you want to then build up your own channel, somewhere in OTT and have people pay you directly to watch your films. Good luck. But that's an option if you want to be an artist. But this is this is a business and you have to think about it as a business. It is a weirdest business, one of the weirdest businesses in the world because it is art and commerce together. And you got to kind of figure out that balance that make it work for you. Now, there's

Linda Nelson 1:03:08
Really important about YouTube, and that is music rights. We've had terrific amount of problems with people that a lot of people unfortunately, when they license music for their film, they just get festival rights. Right now, they don't go back. And you know, we suggest that you get perpetual rights right from the beginning. Always. And quite frankly, if your building is under 100 grand, I would say just do ask for Internet rights. It's a lot cheaper than trying to ask for the actual Right.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:46
Or I'll tell you what, there's so many music services out there soundstripe film pack film like there's so many like I did for both of my movies. I use music from these the stock places that give you complete rights if you pay you know you if you're a member, and there's some really great songs on the on the corner of ego and desire all the music in there except for I think, two pieces of music which I bought outright rights to, or had my composer do were some songs with lyrics and they were perfect for the scenes and and they cost me nothing because it was just part of my membership of 180 bucks a year or something like that. So there are other options. And if you really go on down and down and dirty there is free YouTube music that you can download from YouTube itself to use for your for your content as well. You know, it all depends but yeah, I agree. So many movies. Now that's another thing with with posts. So like I know you'd like to use the term post post on your films, and filmmakers have to understand post post preparing for deliverables and preparing to get your movie into distribution. From when I was doing it back in the day, my post house was much more complicated than it is today where it seems that it's a lot easier, but still a lot of pitfalls to fall into. So can you kind of go a little bit over postpones of what you're looking for and movies,

Linda Nelson 1:05:13
So first I'll talk about, you know, making sure that you're preparing for distribution. Most of the premium platforms, their minimum requirement is 1920, by 1080, progress, or two to HQ, two channel stereo. So we always require that from our filmmakers, that's the basic format, and your and your trailer must match the feature. Okay, so same frame rate, right. And so it must, it must be the same. If you've also, you know, have a 4k or a 5.1, you can include include those optionally, to us, but you must have that, that one format, because that will work for us to put on every single channel. So, so that's, that's really critical. And, and there are some basic rules that you have to follow, for example, different distributors will be different. We have a bumper, you know, with our logo on it, that we require you to put on the front of your film, in the same way that universal or Warner Brothers or anybody else would have, you put that on there. And I guess, that has to be preceded by two frames of black in the beginning, and two frames of black at the end, no more tones, no more color bars, even for broadcasting, they're not requiring it anymore. So they don't, you know, it's not something that we want. And nobody, nobody will take it that has to be stripped off. And also you cannot, on the back end, you can put any URL, so don't put your website don't promise any of the people that donated stuff that you put their website on their or their Instagram handle, though, at handles no URLs, not allowed. I probably 20% of the bills that we get have that and they have to redo there. So So that's, that's really, really important. And if you don't have a still photographer, you can your editing system will produce very high res screen grabs, you know, we we always need at least five of those. And we also need closed captions, two formats, dot SCC and dot SRT. Right, so those, those are all of them. And the most important thing to think about is your poster. That was done and we when we require to we require a vertical a portrait, you know, aspect ratio poster and a landscape poster because some platforms use landscape and some use portrait and have really clear title art and as to really show up if you have some little skinny that you can't read it when you stand back. They'll reject it, you know, they want strong title art has to be Photoshop, and all all texts on separate layers and strong images. No little people on the beach looking out somewhere, you know, it's your faces if you have anybody that's of, you know, importance you want their face on the poster, but strong bold images because your poster needs to be clickbait when somebody's sitting with their remote control or their phone or their laptop and they're just flipping to posters. They've got to be grabbed by your poster.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:09
So obviously a puppy saving Christmas that's obviously going to sell all day.

Linda Nelson 1:09:14
Yes. If you have a Christmas tree and a little puppy

Alex Ferrari 1:09:20
And maybe there's like a helicopter and he's hanging with it like he's looking cool that done done on that and then put Dean Cain on it. Sold!

Linda Nelson 1:09:31
The posts are really important and the trailer. Also, I'm gonna say two things about, you know, shooting and editing. Your trailer is important for TVOD sites. It has to move quickly. A lot of fast cuts even if it's a drama, you still want it to move quickly. No dwelling moments, you know, in your artistic moments. Yeah, no. So so you don't want that so you want it To be very fast paced under two minutes has to be under two minutes. If it's over, they truncate it. And, you know, that messes up your trailer, keep it under two minutes. And then regarding the movie, it's more important than ever, to engage quickly with the audience. Especially on a lot. Because if somebody doesn't get engaged quickly, they're just let Brian out because they haven't paid for it. And they will just like, bounce off and try something else. On AVOD. Usually, they don't even watch trailers, they just start the movie and they get engaged, they stay, they don't get engaged, they're gone. So don't start with the slow moving, you know, building moments. No, you need something has to happen in the beginning. And don't put everyone's credit on the front of the movie. All you need is the directors in the cast. That's it. And then you can put everybody's credits on the back because we get movie sometimes. It gets 10 minutes, the credits on the front, is it all we have to thank everybody, we didn't pay them and do it. People just don't stay and especially with Avon, because you're getting paid based on how many ads people watch. And if they only watch five minutes and then leave. It doesn't make any money.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:28
It's a such a different way of looking at the process and and filmmakers need to people listening, guys, please listen to what Linda saying. Because it is. I mean, look, we've look what we've been talking about seven years at this point, Linda, I mean, you've been you've been coming on the show for seven years, many of the things that you're saying have not changed. Many things have as far as the business is concerned. But a lot of these core ideas have not changed. And to think about your movie as a business is different. If you want to make an arthouse film, then just make an arthouse film a backyard film, something that's art, then go to some museums, you have to play it, you know, put it up yourself somewhere and see what happens. But don't be upset when you don't want the Oscar. But now you have to think about like, Okay, you're almost changing, the filmmakers almost have to think like YouTubers, where they have to engage within the first five seconds, 10 seconds, if not, someone's going to click away. Where are the older filmmakers of the of the generation behind us, even in the 90s, you could take your time you could build because you were in a theater, or you just rented a VHS or DVD and you weren't going to you can't click away from that you're kind of locked in. So it had to be really bad for you to get up, eject the tape, or pop out the DVD or things like that. So you were it was a different environment and theatrical, you're pretty much locked in there for those two hours. So you, it was a much more artistic situation. But nowadays, you're just competing with too much media, from from social media to YouTube creators, who you know, some guy who makes a 20 minute video about what Mr. B's doing whatever he does, is more it's going to hold more people's attention when he does like the squid games. Redo with live people now. And he did it all that thing made millions of dollars millions of dollars. And it cost him millions to make but he I think he pulled in at the end of the whole thing. I think that the numbers were like, you know, 700,000 million dollars or plus take home off of that deal. And probably more so than now. But that's what you're competing with. And especially if you're on YouTube.

Linda Nelson 1:13:44
Right! And so then to answer the second half of your question about post post, we used to always think of you know, your film journey as you know, being in development and then pre production and production and post it and you're done boom, you give it to a distributor, Dennis. Well, now there is a new phase and we call it post post. And that's about posting after post production and it's critical to the success of your movie and you can prepare for post post throughout your production cycle. Everyone on your set has got a 4k camera in their pocket. Everyone can be doing you know small interviews with their classmates or their crew mates or you know what's going on. And if you would provide them with a folder on like say Google Drive, they can all upload to that and you're going to be collecting these assets the move will become very valuable to you during post post because the worst thing I see people do when they realize oh my god my films done and now I got to do some promotion is they post their trailer 500 times and people get sick and see and you know, you just can't just use your trailer. Right so we we have a lot of debris and strategies for, you know how and what to post and where the second thing I think that's really, really critical for people to understand is that your movie is not a brand. And we've been trying to pitch this for a long time and plan people still, you know, they want them, you know, they want to see the film as a brand. And it's not the filmmaker as a brand, I don't think any filmmaker makes a movie thinking, this is the only movie I'm gonna ever make no, they make a movie, because they want to make movies. And they want to do it long term. If they want that dream to come true, then they have to learn how to be successful. And part of that is learning about the business side of it. So you are the filmmakers the brand, it could be a production company, say you have two or three people that have got together and made a production company and you're going to planning on you know, making movies together for a long time, we have several, you know, companies like that. And then then so your YouTube channel, your Twitter account, your Instagram account should be the brand, which is you or your production company, so that you're slow, you're building, as you build your body of work, you're building an audience. And so if this is your first first film fine, and that's all it's going to be on those channels, when you do your next film, then you're going to push that down on the channel, and you're going to feature the new movie, but you're already going to have subscribers and followers and people waiting for that new movie. So you're constantly building bigger and bigger and bigger. And that's why like, I told you that one filmmaker had 600,000 emails, okay, from all the movies that it made and built up their, you know, their, their brand. And then on Facebook, you make a separate page for each project. That way, you're minimizing the number of profiles you have to maintain as well, if you start making a separate one for every single movie, next thing, you know, you're gonna have 40 or 50 profiles to maintain.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:55
Tell me about it. Yeah.

Linda Nelson 1:16:58
So you want it so you want to keep in mind, you are the brand, and you want to build up, you know, an audience or your body of work, so that people, you know, will look to you, it's you know, that's how people like Coppola, and you know, in in any of these big

Alex Ferrari 1:17:16
Scorsese

Linda Nelson 1:17:18
And I don't care how big they are, they all started building, you know, he started with Memento was a, it was an independent film, right? You know, and you build a body of work, and then people are waiting for your next movie, eventually. And, you know, it's movie making you get better and better as you go on, you know, it's just something that you learn and protect your craft. And, you know, so that's all really, really works.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:44
So Linda, where can people find out more about you and what you and Michael are doing over at Indie rights?

Linda Nelson 1:17:49
Well, our website is indierights.com. And there's a lot of information there a lot of testimonials you can actually see our contract, they're part of our reputation is that we're very, very transparent. We have a great YouTube channel now that's called indie rights movies for free. And that's where you'll find a lot of our movies, their full feature length films in HD and, and eventually that's where you know, our movies go, we of course, we take the time to exploit other avenues first, you know, you'll get to go to a market like its market we go to, we make a really nice catalog that features each film. And if you have done your work and gotten tomatoes, you'll have a tomato on your page. And you know, quote, and so everybody gets to be in this book four times, twice, once for each candidate if and you get a big page and then Then afterwards, you get a full page after 20 years buyers aren't interested in even looking so you need to make the most of those first two years. So that's, that's those are the two best places to find us. We're also of course on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:18
Linda, it has been a pleasure talking to you as always, you are a wealth of information and and I appreciate all the work that you've been doing to help filmmakers over the years and trying to get some money for free for them and hopefully educating them you do a lot of education as well and really kind of walk people through the process after they signed with you. So I do truly appreciate everything you've done and I'll see you at AFM as every year and and hopefully, we'll we'll talk about those virtual reality revenue streams that we're going to be making.

Linda Nelson 1:19:53
So much honor to be on your show and it's always a pleasure!

IFH 631: From Horror Indies to The Revenant with Mark L. Smith

I’ve spoken to many people in the film business over the years but today’s guest is one of the hardest working craftsman I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with. Today on the show we have screenwriter, producer and director, Mark L. Smith. If you look at his IMDB you’ll see a list of 15 projects at various stages of development. He’s come a long way from entering the Hollywood scene some 15 years ago with his fear-striking horror screenwriting and directorial debut, Séance in 2006.

Read Mark L. Smith’s Screenplays

Mark stumbled onto writing as a hobby during off-seasons at his family’s ranch where he worked after college. Self-taught, some workshops and an inventory of specs later, his path crossed Mel Gibson’s – who bought Smith’s first-ever script written in 2001.

From then onwards, he’s been credited for successful writing and producing for hits like The Revenant (2015) and Overlord (2018) and The Midnight Sky which was just released in 2020, starring the incomparable, George Clooney.

In Overload, a small group of American soldiers finds horror behind enemy lines on the eve of D-Day.

While producing his directorial debut horror, film Séance, with friend of the show and veteran producer Suzanne Lyons, Smith was also a writer on Vacancy in 2006. You will hear more in the interview of his experience navigating the world of filmmaking on both sets, as a rookie, and the village of support he received.

Vacancy follows the unfortunate adventure of a married couple who becomes stranded at an isolated motel and finds hidden video cameras in their room. They soon realize that unless they escape, they’ll be the next victims of a snuff film.

After Vacancy, many horror projects started to open up for Smith. He worked those for a while until it felt old and he had the urge to do something different. That’s when he co-wrote the revisionist western script for The Revenant with legendary director, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu.  The film was based in part on Michael Punke’s 2002 novel by the same title. You can watch the remarkable Making of documentary of The Revenant here.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domhnall Gleeson, the story sets in the 1820s, where a frontiersman, Hugh Glass, sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling.

The twist and turns that caused delayed production of the film and its eventual success will pique your interest. The Revenant became an instant commercial and artistic success. It grossed $533 million worldwide, earned 11 Oscar nominations, 3 Golden Globe awards, and 5 BAFTA awards

Mark recently wrote The Midnight Sky that released last year, starring George Clooney. It is a screen adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel, ‘Goodmorning, Midnight’ which is a post-apocalyptic tale that follows a lonely scientist in the Arctic, as he races to stop Sully and her fellow astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.

I had an absolute ball speaking to Mark. He’s one of the hardest working screenwriters in Hollywood. We discuss everything from The Revenant, genius-level tips on how to adapt a book to the screen to what it was like work with Quentin Tarantino on the Star Trek script that has yet to be made. If you pray, please pray to the Hollywood Gods that Mark and Quentin’s Star Trek gangster film sees the light of day.

Enjoy this conversation with Mark L. Smith.

Alex Ferrari 0:03
I'd like to welcome to the show Mark L. Smith, man. How you doing, Mark?

Mark L. Smith 0:07
Great. Thanks for having me. Alex,

Alex Ferrari 0:09
thank you so much for being on the show. Man. I am a fan of yours for a while. And, you know, we I was telling you before we started, we have a friend in common one, a friend of the show of the indie film, hustle podcast, Suzanne Lyons and anybody who's been at the IFH Academy knows Suzanne very well, because she's one of our best selling co instructors selling courses and webinars. And you guys got a little history as well if I'm not mistaken.

Mark L. Smith 0:35
Yeah, man, we go way back before God, I think before I ever had anything made, I sold a few things. But then something got to Suzanne and, and she was just so lovely. I wouldn't let her go, you know, I just hung on. And so we just, she's just the greatest. So it's, um, so we we kept finding things, trying to put little, little indie projects together and it's okay, and as hard as it is to put like a big studio movie together to get all those. It's those little indies or even tougher, you know, it's just like trying to find all the pieces, you know, because it's got to be just right.

Alex Ferrari 1:13
Yeah, absolutely. So we'll get we'll get we'll get a little deeper in the weeds on on that project in a minute. But before we get started, man, how did you get into the business?

Mark L. Smith 1:22
I stumbled into it. I actually had a right out of college. My family had a dude ranch, believe it or not in Colorado. And it was like 2000 acres surrounded by a quarter million in National Forest. And we were I mean so remote our driveway. Our entrance was a two and a half mile old stagecoach trail, literally North stagecoach trail through canyons and over creeks. And so we we would have guests come in from May until like the first of October. And it was you know, hot air balloon rides and whitewater rafting, horseback riding camps, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:56
all they like sit like cities like city slickers.

Mark L. Smith 1:58
Yeah, the same thing, just kind of a little more of a resort vibe with the tennis courts. But it was that same sort of thing where you got that rustic, they stayed in cabins, you know, and it was kind of cool. But we were only open, like five or six months a year. And so I had to figure out a way to kill those Colorado winters. And so it was, um, they were they were very long, very cold, lots of snow. And so, after about two or three years, I start actually started writing stories for my kids, little short stories. And, um, and then I realized, I've always I just loved films, I just love movies. And so it was like, well, these stories are kind of fun. I wonder if I can combine them. So I did. And I just wrote a couple things. And now this is back, man, this is you weren't emailing scripts around and everything this is this is mid 90s, you know, early 90s. And it was um, so I started playing around just during every offseason, I would try to write one or something. And then I actually went out to the asi did a workshop there. And kind of grasped the one thing that the great thing from the workshop that I remember that I took with me was the first class he said in front of all of us, Nico's, you guys all are here because you want to write a screenplay. I'm going to tell you right now, none of you are going to write a screenplay. You all think you're going to write a screenplay, you're all going to try to write a screenplay, but you're not going to finish none of you're ever going to finish. So that to me was like, I'm incredibly competitive. And everything I do is my family and friends will tell you a little too much at times. So I took that as a challenge, you know, so it was I was going to go and so I started those off seasons starting to write starting to learn to write and then I wrote a couple things that I optioned one option to a producer at Disney, and then they they got like, I would enter in the nickels. nickels. Oh, of course, of course, they still do. And so I entered and I would get a one like, each year, I would get into the nickels finals kind of thing. And so and it finally got around to enough that I I wrote a spec and sold it to, to paramount for Mel Gibson, it was the first thing that I ever did, and back in 2001 that ever sold. And so um, so from that point, it just, it was weird, because everything kind of changed. And it was, um, I was super lucky to get it to a guy who knew a guy was just like this really weird way. But it finally got to people, you know that that they were able to buy it. And so after that it kind of people started coming to me more. And so it was from that point on, I was writing steadily and all the way until I guess the first thing I got made was Vacancy. I think it was like oh six

Alex Ferrari 4:39
years or so.

Mark L. Smith 4:41
And then uh, but all during that that period of time it was just kind of nice, nice steady work and couldn't get anything quite made. I was doing a lot of dramas that people like but they were harder to get made. And so I actually the reason I wrote things like they can see your stance on that was because horror was kind of big at that time and it was like okay, I'm Ready? I've had enough fun, just selling things, you know, it's like, let's get something in, let me see it and so on. So it worked out.

Alex Ferrari 5:07
Yeah, that's the thing that i a lot of screenwriters coming up don't understand that just because a screenwriter might have one or two credits on their IMDb have produced things that has, they could be working steadily for a decade. Oh, yeah, making well, making a really good living as a writer and and in script doctoring and, and doing all sorts of things, but only get one or two things produced. And yeah, I know. So.

Mark L. Smith 5:34
It's so even the super successful like, say, a Scott frank, I love Scott Frank is just just, he's my guide as far as writers, but it was, um, you can look and you think, Oh, it's I would have thought he was busier, you know, you look through it. But what you don't know is he's doing he's doing just dozens of jobs in between each of those, you know, he's non stop, he never stops writing. And so it's a it is it's, it's, it's a little deceiving. When you just look at credit system, you know, it's like, oh, they've only they only written that one thing or two things, you know, now what?

Alex Ferrari 6:04
What fear did you have to break through to write your first screenplay, because I know when you when you sit down to write the very first one, when you kind of really are kind of clumsy? You kind of you might have read Syd field, you know, you might have read saved a cat or something. And you might have had something like, what was that thing that you'd like? I'm going to do this. I'm not I'm done. Because there obviously there was fear, there has to be fear. Any writer who looks at a blank screen, it's free

Mark L. Smith 6:29
No, there absolutely. As I tell you, what saves me. It saved me it was William Goldman and Sinfield. And the the structure aspect is, to me is invaluable. And I tell everyone I ever talked to about it structures that thing. Because you're suddenly if you're looking, if you're really into the structure of a script or film, you're not looking at a blank screen that you got to fill 120 pages with, you're looking at a blank screen that goes well, I just got to kind of get 10 to 12 before I get my inciting incident. So if I give good characters and good, you know, some fun action do that, that's 12 pages, I can do that. And then well, now I've only got like 1618 more pages, I've got my first act, you know, so I break it down. And then it's like to my, to my midpoint. And then it's like, where I'm going to turn. And I don't outline when I write I've never outlined. And so I know kind of my beginning, middle and end. But the fun for me is discovering it as I go. And so I tried outlining a couple times. And it was like, actual writing got boring, if that makes any sense. Because Well, I know what's going to happen there. You know, I already know this, it's like, I need to be I need to kind of box myself into a corner and write my way out and twists and turns. So um, so yeah, the structure kind of helped me overcome that fear of kind of just staring at that thing. And I think part of it, obviously is too stupid to know how difficult it was gonna be. Well, I mean, so because I was, like I said, I just started, I just started writing. And back then it was, you know, everything was through the through regular mail. And so I would write a script, send it off to people for to get reads. And by the time I was hearing back, I just immediately dove into the next one. And so I was writing the next one, because it was like, I didn't even care about that anymore. It's like, Okay, what did I learn from writing that script that I can use on this one, I'm gonna write this one. And then I'll say, I just kept doing it, it just got to be in such a cycle of writing that it just became really easy. You know,

Alex Ferrari 8:19
the, the thing that so many screenwriters and filmmakers in general who decide to write as well, they don't understand the absolute insanity that it is to be a screenwriter, the, the diff, the level of, of craft that you need to write a solid screenplay is so much more difficult than reading a novel so much more difficult than writing a novel, or any honestly, other than the Haiku, I think is probably one of the most difficult forms of writing invented. Is that fair? It's,

Mark L. Smith 8:48
it's funny, it's a little bit, um, it's like, to me, I look at almost like a math problem, you know, because I do fall back on the structure of it, you know, it's like, Okay, I've got to do this much in this many, this amount of number, you know, this amount of pages. So everything goes there. So then I have to fit the words and the character and, and all of that into those little, those little sections. So the math part just helps me the structure helps me but it is tricky. And people don't, don't really realize even people that are working in it every day, there was a producer on a film I was hired, went flew over to London, doing a weekly thing, they needed a quick rewrite, they were shooting immediately, and the script was in trouble. So they asked me to do it. So I, I go, and there was I had some friends that were part of it. And so I write I'm writing like crazy. And I, I they need a complete rewrite, but they needed in 10 days. And so I wrote three straight days, gave them the first like 50 pages of the script. And the producer looked at it and she said, This is great. When do I get the rest? You know, it was like, I told her I said, I feel like I'm I'm like having to teach you like you're a small child. I have to teach where babies come from, you know, it's like you don't understand the process. This is what goes into it. You know? It's so it's not as easy as just writing the words down, you know, everything affects everything. And so that was, um, so it's just everyone, you know, it's until you've done it. I mean, it's like anything, you know, it's like, I remember my kids played, played football and stuff in high school sports in high school, and I would you know, I'd be in the stands and grumbling about the coaching and the stuff and I, and then I did some little league football and I'm coaching them and it's like, oh my god, this is so hard. You got to think about everything you got to know. So until you do it, you just never know.

Alex Ferrari 10:32
Oh yeah. Oh, yeah. It's like it's it's I think the film industry, and specifically screenwriting is the only business where someone goes, Hey, I watched the movie. I think I can write that. Like, you don't go You don't you don't pass by a mansion and go, yeah, I could build that. Like, you don't do that and any other

Mark L. Smith 10:46
bridge Game and Watch the Brom play and say, Yeah, I can get out there, you know? Sure. Was that hard? No, but it is, it is funny, because everybody can write everybody has a story. And everybody, you know, so it feels and to be honest, more people could do it. If they had the time, that was the huge benefit that I had, what were those five, six months a year off where everybody else is having to work, go to their day job, do all that stuff. I was at home in the middle of nowhere, you know, and so I could just focus on and without that, I don't think I would have been able to do it. You know, it just it is so consuming and stuff. So yeah,

Alex Ferrari 11:24
it was very, it's very shining, like, very cool.

Mark L. Smith 11:29
Yeah, but no, the writing it was so much. So I figured I would write instead of grab an axe, you know.

Alex Ferrari 11:36
fair deal. I think it worked out better for you that way.

Mark L. Smith 11:39
My wife and kids were thrilled.

Alex Ferrari 11:40
Exactly. Now, how many? This is another thing? How many screenplays Did you write before you sold your first one?

Mark L. Smith 11:51
I auctioned my first one, the first thing I ever wrote out. And

Alex Ferrari 11:55
that's lucky. It's very lucky.

Mark L. Smith 11:57
Yes, very lucky. And then it came through I entered in. It was like the Nichols and the Austin heart of film and those kinds of things that they had. And so, and it was just lucky that somebody stumbled on it. So I actually like the first two or three things I wrote. And then I got a little cute, tried to do some things differently and be smarter than I really am. And so I probably wrote two or three things that I didn't so it was probably like my 76767. Yeah, Devil's kiss was it was a Western, it was a Western thriller, that I am sold to Paramount, with no this

Alex Ferrari 12:30
and that. And and the reason I ask is because I always am a proponent. And in many people that I've talked to a lot of professional screenwriters like, say you need to just write. I mean, just write as many and have as many of those screenplays in your inventory. Like you should look yourself as a business. And your inventory and your product are scripts, the more of them you have. So when you walk into a room, you're lucky enough to get into a room. I don't like this one. What do you have? What else do you have? And you bust out two or three other

Mark L. Smith 12:54
100%? Because it's so key because good writing people will find good writing, but the stories are so subjective. You know, it's like, they may like your writing, but not like that story. So it's so valuable to have those other things kind of in your pocket that it's like, like you're saying, you know, well, I do have this, you know, you never know when one of those will click so

Alex Ferrari 13:14
yeah, absolutely. So now, when you did your first movie with Suzanne, I think that was according to IMDb. At least that's the first movie that got produced on I think it's around the same year, as Vacancy.

Mark L. Smith 13:25
Yeah, I was actually bouncing back and forth between the vacancy set, and that's that they were kind of shooting at the same time. So you were directing nothing to everything. But you were directing that one was like, so I had no clue what I was doing. And I'm sitting here it was so lovely to let me do that. I mean, of course, I would never tell them that. But it was like I was following Jeff Shaft who was who was our dp and, and, and Suzanne and Kate. And they were just kind of like, okay, yeah, you probably want to you know, you move the camera here, because I knew the story. And I knew the performances, I wanted to get into stuff. And the one thing that I realized going bouncing from the vacancy set to the SAM set was we're shooting 10 to 12 pages a day on seance we're shooting half a page, sometimes on vacancy, you know, it's like you have so much more time, right? So I had to like, I remember the actors we we just rehearse on sounds rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, because I knew I was only going to have time for like two or three takes so we had to really do it quickly. And so Um, so yeah, that was it was it was a really wild year and a half or so on those two.

Alex Ferrari 14:25
Now what was the biggest lesson you learned working on Seance because that was kind of the first like you were thrown into the deep end of the pool. And I didn't know that you were jumping back and forth between Vegas he was so you could actually see the difference in budget and in between say, hey can see cuz Vegas. He was like walk back

Mark L. Smith 14:42
into that stage on Saturday and go Oh, God, here we

Alex Ferrari 14:45
go. It's just like, what I had to bring my own lunch today. Suzanne when the hell we did that I used to run.

Mark L. Smith 14:51
There was a Carl's Jr. Just around the corner for work. And I would run during breaks to get myself a sandwich because it really was like the nr Our crew was mostly film students from, I think it was the LA film school. And so that was it. There was there was a time there was a point where we were trying to use a gurney. And I'm sorry, a dolly. And we couldn't. We didn't have anybody that could that could do the dolly. So we couldn't do the shot. You mean literally

Alex Ferrari 15:19
you had a dolly, but you had no doubt, we

Mark L. Smith 15:21
had a doubt you couldn't have anybody do it. So just the DP where he's trying to figure out a way and I'm there trying to do it, but we couldn't get anything, anybody to work. We just didn't have enough people and enough stuff. And there was one day where we walked in, I walked into the set, and the stage, and I go into one of the bedrooms, the college bedrooms, which had been gray, and it was kind of I wanted this kind of dark kind of a, you know, just a plain, plain background. And one wall was yellow, the other was bright blue. The other was like red. It was like a rainbow of color. I go What the hell what happened, you know? And this guy goes, I just thought this was so great. It would make everything pop. And it was like, but no, you know, we don't. And we're shooting now in like an hour. And so there's nothing that can be done. And so now every some of the the wardrobe, were the same colors. So there were shooting scribbles there with a blue shirt against the wall. It's like we're losing. It's like, Oh, god, it's like, okay, move over to the yellow wall. It was just like, it was a learning experience for all of us. I think it's like,

Alex Ferrari 16:19
it's like you were you see those shots with people with green shirts over a green screen. And just like

Mark L. Smith 16:24
it was it was so brutal, but it was, but it was, it was fun. If nothing else, I learned it. It was it was weird. I learned I never had time to be creative on directing. So I was talking to a director once years later, and it was like, it becomes such a machine, you just have no time. So everything has to go so fast. That whereas I can sit with a script and really kind of decide what I want to do and make choices and all of this. You're locked in. You know, when you're on set, you're locked in you're you know, that's that's it. And so you're kind of all your creative stuff comes prior, you know.

Alex Ferrari 17:02
So then you're you're doing vacancy at the same time, which was a hit. It was a hit when it came out, because that spawn to sequel and did it did fairly well. Did did opportunities really start opening up after vacancy?

Mark L. Smith 17:14
Yeah, they did. Then Then I've got every every horror project, Senator, you know, it was all of those. And then I got I saw I did a couple of those kinds of things. And then well, I did a couple of those things. And then I wanted to do something different. So that's when Revenant I actually wrote, I wrote The Revenant right after they can see came out. And really,

Alex Ferrari 17:39
yeah, also, that was a script. That was Hank did. I was an old script, he was hanging around and I wrote

Mark L. Smith 17:44
it, they wanted me to do a pitch on it. And the producers had the book gave me the book, they wanted me to come out and do a pitch. And I'm just the worst at pitching. I just can't do it. I can't tell. I mean, I couldn't pitch you The Revenant. Now,

Alex Ferrari 17:58
you know, now that's done. There's a bear, there's Leonardo DiCaprio, that

Mark L. Smith 18:02
would stumble and say, well, the bear kills the guy. And then they know he's, you know, it's like, so it's it is for me, it's easier to write. So I wrote the spec, and I wrote it on spec. And then it just turned out really, you know, I got lucky, it turned out pretty well. And so we started putting it together. And we were God, it went through so many iterations It was originally I wrote it for Samuel Jackson. That's who was going to be Hugh Glass. And I ran into I ran into Sam on another set, and on another movie that I was working on. And I said, Hey, do you remember that because he sent me this great email after we read the script. He was so excited to do it and stuff. And I said, I asked him, you remember how we we used to, we were supposed to revenue together. And of course, he dropped into some of his, you know, his efforts. And you know how that went. That went didn't happen. But we went out with it with a different director. It didn't, it didn't go they wouldn't give us kind of the budget that was necessary. And so I there were so many iterations we had, we had several different directors, we have Christian Bale was on at one point, and with another director and everything, and then Leo saw draft. And then we got all 100 and 100 came in and then it kind of all started started happening. And then um, so it was it was a really long process.

Alex Ferrari 19:18
Yeah, that's something that a lot of people listening who don't know about the business don't understand is that even if it's an indie or big budget, it it just takes for ever.

Mark L. Smith 19:29
And especially what I found was especially with like, because I've done it, I've done like three things written three things for Leo. And so the great thing is is Leo and whenever he's ready to make it, anybody will make it the tricky thing is that everybody wants Leo in their movie, so he gets sent everything and so you can write these things, but there's, there's only he's only gonna make one every year or two. So you have such a small chance that you're going to be one of those ones, you know, so it took a long time like we were getting ready to go in the financing. Wolf of Wall Street came. So they did that first. And then while that was happening 100 got Birdman financing. So that kicked revenue back a little bit further. And so it was just, you're just waiting for all these kinds of things to align. And it's tricky

Alex Ferrari 20:15
It's Yeah, you got these these kind of giant, you know, solar galaxies kind of flowing around. So you got Leo is one galaxy. Alejandro is another galaxy. The project is another galaxy, and we're just trying to get everything to align properly. Because if, you know, oh, 100 got up there. And that's what people don't understand. Like, the second you get financing on something like something like Birdman for God's sakes, that's not the most box office. I got, I have to, I have to go my friend, I have to

Mark L. Smith 20:45
know that it is a little bit like waiting for like this perfect kind of three Planet Eclipse, you know, for everything to just kind of fall off. And just, it's really tough. And so, um, so you just jump on a bill, you know, just be very grateful when it does happen.

Alex Ferrari 21:00
So Alejandro comes on. And then Alejandro starts working with you on the script, as well. He starts he starts working with you and developing the script. I mean, the concept of The Revenant, you know, with is it's, it's awesome. It's based on a true story. The visuals are amazing, feels amazing, the movies remarkable. But, you know, that's, that's a tough pitch. I'd imagine that that's not an easy that's not an easy studio project in today's world.

Mark L. Smith 21:25
No, and that's why I didn't want to I didn't see any way I could pitch it. It was because, you know, I was even when I was writing because it was like yeah, there's going to be like, I'm going to write 30 pages where nobody says a word you know, and it's going to be really quiet you know in our our star leading man is gonna just get mangled you know, so you probably he's gonna look rough for most, you know, all these different things you know, it's gonna be expensive and out in the cold and and we need to shoot it you know, outdoors are no stages and, and so I knew that was that was going to be really tough and it wouldn't have gotten made without like a Leo. It just wouldn't have known then. So no, and then so and then Allah Han and Alejandro as well. You know, you had to have that combination, but all 100 after Birdman. Right? You know, with the combination of Leo that was the key.

Alex Ferrari 22:07
Yeah. Cuz after Birdman, because they both came out year after year.

Mark L. Smith 22:11
Right? Yeah, he wanted us director for both

Alex Ferrari 22:14
years in a row. And Chico was

Mark L. Smith 22:16
kind of talented. Yeah, Chico. Oh, my God. Geez. We'll

Alex Ferrari 22:18
talk about Chico in a minute. So. So you you Yeah, so he did Birdman which exploded. And it's still arguably one of the best films I've seen in the last 20 years. It's still Yeah, I just absolutely love those genius. So it's a it's at a different level. And I got to ask you, man, because you've worked with some some of the most amazing people in the business. When you're working with someone like Leo or Alejandro? I mean, they, they are at genius levels. I mean, they their crafts is, and I'm not trying to blow smoke up anybody's but but I mean, they definitely playing with a different set of cards than the rest of us in a good way. Because they're just, you don't make Birdman and The Revenant. Right after each other in that, you know, no. Feels like there's something they're playing. Yeah. So, I mean, you've worked with everybody from, you know, low budget Indies, all the way to, you know, Oscar winning guys like Alejandro and Leo, what is that? What is it like being in the room? Not to say that you're not part of that group as a genius as well. So you have done some amazing work

Mark L. Smith 23:27
over the corner

Alex Ferrari 23:28
with the writers, but the writers generally are often

Mark L. Smith 23:34
a little stupid is that's expected. But it's no, the, the thing with 100. He's, and then you combine with chivo. And what they do, because we're working on the script, and we do something like we can pull that one off, you know, we can't really do this. And this because mark, you know, I can do this. Just let me watch. And so so it and it always worked every time that I bought, you know, there's just no way he's gonna be able to pull off that shot and make it visible in there. But he did it and antiva did it. And so and that and then Leo's performance, and especially coming off of I mean, you kind of look at you know, all 100 did Birdman and then Revenant and then Leo just did just did Wolf of Wall Street where he's just rat a tat tat with a dialogue and everything's over the top. He's doing good. And then he does The Revenant, which is all just kind of expression and so quiet and everything that I mean, when you can pull that off. I mean, again, like you said, they're just on a different level. And so it was so fun. I just, I just was on go up on set and just watch them up in Canada. It was like, this is like an all you know, but you

Alex Ferrari 24:36
were on set. So you were on set for a bunch of it. Yeah,

Mark L. Smith 24:38
it was just a as a tourist, sometimes I would go it need a little we didn't change and he had it so heavily rehearsed, that everybody knew every move. And so there was really no changing of the script. But he would say I need some background dialogue here. Can you give me something that's going to happen there so I go to the trailer and do that. But the rest of the time. I'm just standing there watching them work and it was it was just amazing. Like I said, I just I felt like I learned so much just by seeing those guys what they could do.

Alex Ferrari 25:07
And I mean, I saw that documentary that they did about the making of that Alejandro was on and I mean, it looked like hell, man. I mean that that's a hellish, hellish shoot like,

Mark L. Smith 25:19
I mean, there was there was a time I was thinking there was a scene where Leo's hang up the Rockies trying to fill a canteen after he's kind of drug itself to the river. And it is so cold up there. I mean, I've got gloves and hat and and he's laying there on the side of the river and he's filling this canteen is his elbow deep in the water. And, and

Alex Ferrari 25:37
it's not Hollywood, and it's not Hollywood water. It's real.

Mark L. Smith 25:40
This is this is Canadian, Rocky, right? He's there and they would shoot Alejandro would shoot different angles until he was just shivering so much that they'd have to stop and then put him in the suit with a with, like blow dryers heaters that would then heat him up inside the suit and he's doing doing eating soup, and then they'd go do it again. And then they do it to the shivers then pull them out and do it. I told him, I walked up to him one day, and I go and this is the only time in my life that I'm glad I'm not Leonardo Decaprio, you know, it's like, it was the most brutal thing. Again, stuff you don't really realize that actors go through, you know, and so it's not all just let's hang out in the trailer to we shoot this thing. And um, he was super, he never complained. There was never one time that he like moaned and bitched and groan or anything, he was just like, he's just the best it just, he's there to do his job and do you know, give the director exactly what they're looking for?

Alex Ferrari 26:31
I remember I remember someone saying the commentary for for God's sakes, somebody give Leonardo DiCaprio the Oscar before he kills himself? Like everything

Mark L. Smith 26:41
I mean, you know, Alejondro would ask you to do it. You know, it's like, you know, Leo just called God now, really, but he would do it.

Alex Ferrari 26:48
And, you know, he's an intense figure. I mean, he's he without question. He's an intense director, not in a bad way. But he has, he has a vision, he has a presence about him. You know, I've had him I've had I've had the pleasure of meeting Guillermo a couple times. And he has that kind of different energy, different energy completely, but has that presence and those those kind of directors, I mean, when you're going to make the revenue you you've kind of be a general like, you can't, you can't lollygag around you can't show any week. I mean, you're in jail during the year badly that elements and Yeah,

Mark L. Smith 27:23
everybody, you know, it is like your army is miserable. You know, they're looking, you know, you're you're trying, you're looking for deserters at that point, you know, because it is so brutal. And that and it's it's long and it's cold, and it's hard. And so um, he had it, he had a cool thing that he would do, he had this chime that would go off the same time, every afternoon. And when that time would hit everybody would just even if they're, you know, they would time it. So they weren't in the middle of a shot. But every but if it was pre shot for everything, everybody would stop. No, no one would say a word. Everybody kind of just look around, get get get a feel for nature, kind of, you know, remember what we're doing and stuff and then boom, go back into it. And everybody was ready. And it was every day. And it was really cool.

Alex Ferrari 28:04
That's an that's an interesting technique. I mean, it's just kind of like, because you can get caught up in the not only the minutiae, but just, you know, when you're in the battle, it's tough to just go, Dude, look where we are, look what we're doing. Take a second to breathe. That's it. Yeah. So and that's,

Mark L. Smith 28:20
I think he did it for everyone, because he knew he needed it as well. I think it was very helpful to him because he is so intense, you know, and it is, you know, there are directors that will go and it's just the job. It's it's more than the job for a hunter. Of course, this is life and death, you know, and so he's, it's, it's important. It's funny, because I did something with gamma as well, we wrote a script with him, and they couldn't be more different. You know, no, come on. You know, it's so funny. And they're good friends and everything, but they are completely different. And both so amazingly talented stuff in their own ways, but it's just yet very different.

Alex Ferrari 28:55
And how was it writing with Alejandro? Like, I mean, bringing that energy because you're pretty much a loan writer from your credits, like you generally don't partner with?

Mark L. Smith 29:03
No, I don't. And it was, I wasn't sure. But we got in it was it was kind of fun, because we would each write things that he wanted to tweak and change. I would write my 10 pages, he would write his 10 pages, and then we would trade you know, he'd send me his I'd send him mine. And then we would, you know, discuss which one was, you know, we'd have an argument about which was better, you know, and he always won. Which is, you know, that's what he should have, but it was, um, but it was, it was fun, because I got to kind of see storytelling through his eyes in a different way. And also, you know, not just kind of like the lens kind of thing, but also how the character stuff and everything that he would do now, it's funny because we made one big change that my draft of The Revenant was much more of a kidnapping. There was no Hawk there was no sun, in mind, oh, really, in your mind, the sun you actually opened with the, you see the hands of a little boy and a father and they're carving this star in To the wooden stock of a hunting rifle, and you hear the boy coughing and stuff, and you know he's sick, you're getting just a couple words of dialogue. And then there's a splinter in little boy's hand and it gets a couple drops of blood bleed into the star of the rifle. And you kind of go into the grain, you know of that rifle. And then when you pull back out, we're with Hugh as Leo now, and this age old, battered rifle and everything. So my story was when after when Fitzgerald leaves, leaves glass to die, he hadn't killed anyone, he took his rifle. And so we took the last piece of his son, he The last thing that glass had of his son. So it wasn't my story wasn't as much of a revenge to get to get Fitzgerald for that it was he just wanted his his son back. And so it was literally just to get his hands on the rifle. So it was a little different takes. So that was the one big change, I think, in the, in the two versions, and everything else, kind of more nuances, you know?

Alex Ferrari 30:54
Yeah. And that's, I mean, to be honest, either one seems to work

Mark L. Smith 31:00
fine about his version, you know, no, no, it is, it's just it's like, if you want to go really hit somebody hard with the reason for revenge, or if you want it to be something that is more, you know, a little more subtle, and I do tend, I tend to be subtle, even in, you know, in dialogue, it's like, I don't want to say anything on the nose, just like, let me take a few extra lines or a couple extra scenes to get stuff across. You know,

Alex Ferrari 31:23
now, I have to ask me, because when Chivo got involved, yes, when you start seeing this footage, come back. I mean, it's unlike, it's really unlike anything that had been shot the camera was pretty much I think only that if I'm not mistaken, was a fairly new sensor, new everything, I saw some behind the scenes shots of how they did it, you know, with these giant, you know, giant silks across the forest. I mean, like,

Mark L. Smith 31:49
yeah, it was all natural lighting. So we would have just that little window, you know, two or three hours on some days where there was light to shoot, you know, and so it was, so that's why I was so critical. They did the, all the rehearsing and everything, because they knew they didn't have any time to waste. And so um, no, and then to watch to stand there and watch them shoot, and then go watch the dailies, and they had a nice theater that we'd go to and watch the dailies and to see what was coming out of it what Shiva was, you know, what I was seeing compared to what Shiva was finding, he was like, Oh, my God,

Alex Ferrari 32:18
yeah, yeah, cuz, because we were on set. I know, he was insane. But like when you're seeing like, what, what they're shooting and you're just like, there's no light. I mean, it's an exposure, or is this gonna work? Because To the untrained eye, not knowing who chivo is, and not knowing what the heck's going on in the camera, in the sensor in the lens and all that stuff. It looks like it's amateur hour, there's no lights, there's nothing like there's no even

Mark L. Smith 32:42
flags. And it was so funny, because if you walk down there, it was along a river you walked way. I mean, you drove forever, then you'd walk there to like that. The first attack scene where the the Native Americans came in, and it was, like, you walk back in time, and everything looks so real. And there were so many layers for hundreds of yards, there would be extras, walking across getting water doing this. And if one of those people timed it wrong, which happened, all the horses would race through, we'd get some attack stuff. And it was like, Wait a second, that person that no one's ever going to notice, you know, was out of place, we start over again, you know, and so it was just my god, it was just amazing to watch.

Alex Ferrari 33:23
So then once The Revenant comes out, everyone just loses their mind. How was it? You know, Oscar night? You know, again, it gets what was it? How many nominations? Like 11 nominations or something

Mark L. Smith 33:35
like that? I don't even know a lot. Yeah. whirlwind.

Alex Ferrari 33:38
It was. So what is that like being in the center of a storm like that? Because you're just like, I'm assuming you're just holding on for the ride at this time. Yeah.

Mark L. Smith 33:44
Alejandro and I just had to do we went from New York would fly to New York to LA and back, I guess, just doing a bunch of Q and A's. And so it was just he and I and it was it was just a whirlwind. And it was so much fun. And it was, you know, we did a lot of it before, like, after it came out. But before the you know, before there was we did a bunch of stuff before it ever premiered. So we knew how much we liked it. But it was still such a different film. You know, it was kind of a, an action film. But it was an art arthouse film a little you know, so

this, you know,

Alex Ferrari 34:15
it's an art house studio. It's like an art house studio

Mark L. Smith 34:18
film. It really was. It's so it's like, you know, we weren't positive of the reaction, you know, so whenever we got the reaction, I remember the night it opened. And we're all texting and emails and, and new Regency is sending the fox or sending the box office stuff throughout Friday night of what the you know, this is it and it's gonna be this we were like, Oh my god, you know, it was so much more than we expected. So it was it was great from from both into the commercial and artistic kind of sides. It was nice. It was. Yeah, very, very lucky. It was funny because the the title, everybody wanted to change the title at the beginning because they It was like, No, nobody knows what The Revenant means. You know, it's like, let's get something that's simpler and everything but now The Revenant you know, I remember years ago seeing it be thrown around on Saturday Night Live, you know, somebody's giving someone the nickname of the revenue. It's like, it's kind of cool, you know? gonna hang around for a while. Oh, no, you

Alex Ferrari 35:10
know when you hear the word The Revenant you just think bear attack. If you just think Leo and eating, did he eat this? He ate the salmon Dendi.

Mark L. Smith 35:19
Yeah, he did that he actually ate up real liver. He ate a buffalo liver, or I think it was a cow liver. And that one thing and then threw up immediately after the camera stopped. It was just rough because he was vegan. I can't remember he did. It was really crossing a line for all hunter to get him to do it. But he got him to do it. Jesus

Alex Ferrari 35:39
Christ, Matt. Yeah. Now you've adopted a couple of books. As you as you as The Revenant. Do you have any tips on how to adapt a book to the screen? Because I know that's a lot of everyone's looking for IP, everyone's looking for existing intellectual property and kind of things to write scripts about, is there a way that you approach adaptive adaptation?

Mark L. Smith 36:00
Yeah, I find I do the things that there's whether it's theme or character, or world something about it, pulls me in, and I never really go. I don't follow the story, the structure of the novel always, it's like, it's like, I find the character and then I kind of go my own route with it. And so it's, it's a tricky thing. I mean, I love I always feel like it's cheating a little bit, you know, after writing so many originals. It's like, God, when you can adapt something, it's like everybody's doing all the heavy lifting for you, you know,

Alex Ferrari 36:35
it's a play, you're playing at that point.

Mark L. Smith 36:37
Oh, yeah. And it's, you're just finding the stuff that you love, and then using it and building off of it. And so, I don't know that I think I approached it a little differently than most. So I'm not sure I'm the best person to give advice, because I don't follow. I just don't i don't jump in where the novel starts, you know, and I don't ever do that, even with, even with The Revenant, we took on a micropump, the authors, a friend of mine, and it was we just took little tidbits, you know, and then and my first draft was was a little more loyal, close to it. The second one distance itself a little bit more, but it's just you, you kind of find the stuff that you love, you know, in a novel, and then, um, and the stuff that works, and then you you go with it.

Alex Ferrari 37:16
So basically, that's the thing, a lot of times screenwriters will look at a book and be like, Oh, well, it's not exactly like Harry Potter. Like, you know, you missed that part. Like you can't, it's you can't do an adaptation like that, because then it's gonna be a mini series at that at that point, or eight hours, or 10 hours worth of stuff. So your approach, and I think the best adaptations is they take the best of the of the, of the novel in that form, and turns it into a new plot a new a new format, because it is a brand new story, new format, everything

Mark L. Smith 37:44
it is, and there's so many things, I actually just ran into this on this. Another thing I was adapting. There's so many things in a novel that you can get away with little cheats, little things that visually, you can say something's happening on the page. But if it's on a screen, it's like, wait, no, that's not right. That doesn't work, you know, or a cheat in a plot that a plot hole that you go in? Well, I read three days ago, when I was reading, you know, the first 30 pages that that happened, this shouldn't have, you can't do any of that in a movie. So you have to you have to fix those. So there there are some novels that I have loved and wanted to adapt. But they had holes like that they had things like that, that I couldn't figure out a way to get around it cinematically, so I just didn't do them.

Alex Ferrari 38:26
Yeah. Now, you said you said something a little earlier in regards to on the nose dialogue? Do you have any advice on dialogue? And how to how, because you have some very realistic dialogue in your scripts? How do you how do you approach dialogue?

Mark L. Smith 38:39
I tried to my one thing is never answered the question. Somebody asked, you know, it's like, if you if someone asks, is the sky blue? You don't say yes, you know, you would say the sky is blue, but not not like it was yesterday, when the you know, when the storm was here or set, you know, what had just blown through or something that leads to something else, you're always every line of dialogue should kind of be telling you something about the person that is speaking it, you know, and the events and what's going on, you just want to you want to get that feeling. Because that's how people in real life, you know, they don't, you just everything isn't just a ba, ba ba back and forth. It's like things, things flow, you know, and you kind of get off tangent, and you get back and you find your ways. And, you know, it's um, it's essentially, I'll throw another name, name drop on you again. So I was doing the Star Trek with with Quentin Tarantino. And so he and I are working on that together. And when we're talking about he's writing this dialogue scene that I've written, and then he writes it. And it's like, Oh, my God. I thought I was like, didn't want to be straightforward with anything. So I'm kind of flowing over here. And then he does this thing, which is now five pages longer than my scene was. And he's going all out here and he's touching on stuff. That's way over here. And then he comes back over. And it was just beautiful. It was just so wonderful and so funny. And so it's like, he just, again, you're talking about someone that sees stuff. Oh, well, normal humans, you know. And so. And I say that, you know, reverence. It's, but it, he's just that guy. And so he's really good at not just being straightforward with that, you know? So yeah, clearly. And so that that's to me is that you just kind of, you want to take your time, don't rush, don't rush to feed information, don't just deliver information through exposition and everything, you, you just want to you want to have conversations and then let the stuff come out in conversations this did this thing we're just selling, it's a TV show with Benedict Cumberbatch. And I've got these two strangers that kind of meet in Europe. And they're each asking questions about each other, just having a conversation, but neither one ever gives a straight answer. So you, by the end of it, you kind of know where they're coming from, but you don't really know any details about either one, they're still missed your mysteries to each other. And that's, I think, is is important, you don't want to, you just don't want to know who everyone is, you know, in the first 510 minutes, because then it's like, Okay, I'm just gonna follow this guide, then it then it all comes down to and I build everything from character anyway. But if you if you do that, if you feed everybody, if you've given everybody, the audience what they need to know, in the first 10 minutes of a character, then it's like, you're now you're relying on explosions or actions, or whatever, you know, it's just, you're not really getting into the twists and turns of character. And that to me is like that. That's the fun.

Alex Ferrari 41:39
So that was I was gonna ask you, because I always ask screenwriters Do they? Do they start with plot or character. And I know they obviously need both. But some, some writers focus on the plot much more than the character but I always say is my personal experience in it. And I've talked to a lot of writers about this is like, when you think of a movie that you've loved. Rarely do you remember, it's like, Man, that plot was amazing. I mean, you could say that the sixth sense, like Sixth Sense was such a strong plot that right, that that's what you remember from it, but that was like that, yeah, but generally, like Indiana Jones, like I kind of, I kind of remember Raiders of Lost Ark, I vaguely remember Temple of Doom, because not one of my favorites. But then I vaguely remember, Last Crusade, like I get the general plot, but what I remember is Indian, his father and Last Crusade, like that's what, that's what you connect to?

Mark L. Smith 42:32
Or are short, rounded moments, right? It's moments and moments come from character, you know, unless you're in a Michael Bay film, you know where it's like. But it is it's so unique characters, everything. Like I said, I always start off with the beginning, middle end, just two lines. So I know kind of where I'm headed. And then when I my character, I start building the character, normally that middle will change, you know, what's gonna, what I thought was gonna happen at the middle no longer happens, because this character decided to do something else. And so the ending is, usually I'm going to get to the same ending at some point, you know, it, that doesn't vary as much, but it's all about, it's all about the character and where they're taking you, you know, and it's a reason why I'm not, I can't really pitch because I can't, I can't write, I don't know what I'm going to write, you know, I don't know who this character is going to be. I can't tell you like in a TV show, I can't tell you what he's going to be doing in Episode Five yet, you know, I've got to get him to the pilot. And, and there was one time I was first starting out the only time I ever pitched it was a job I really wanted. And I had a week to get ready. And so I sat down and I wrote the script. And I just plowed out the script, 111 pages or something, whatever it was. And then I wrote a pitch from the script that I'd written. And that's what I pitched. And so that's the only way I can do it, I have to actually write it.

Alex Ferrari 43:54
And fill on what you said something really interesting. And I've heard this said so many times, and I've read it in so many books, is that a lot of times writers like Stephen King and some, you know, prolific writers, they'll say this, this comment where like, all the character took me somewhere, or the character decided to do something. And I know a lot of writers listening, I get where that that statement comes from. Because as a writer, I see kind of words, certain things kind of start flowing. But I want to hear your opinion on like, what does that actually mean? Because for some for some people who are starting to write, let's say they start off with Indiana Jones like, well, where does Indiana Jones go? How is Indiana Jones talking to me? Like I think quitting says it he's like, I just let them I'm just addict. What is it a dictator, not dictator, um, court reporter Yeah, yeah, yeah. A court reporter between two I'm like, that sounds great. Quinten but for the rest of us, mortals. How does that work? Like I'm sure you know, Mr. Mr. Blonde, and Mr. Black are talking. That's fantastic. You know, but like, how like, I just want to know from your point of view, and being inside of that space in your own writing, how does that work?

Mark L. Smith 45:03
It is it's so weird. It's, um, it's like he said, it's these guys are talking, and I'm hearing them and I'm saying it, like my wife will say, I heard you, I heard these lines, you know, the dialogue, she's walking past. And it's like, because I don't even realize I'm saying them out loud, you know, and it's, I'm just doing it and it's you, they just, they do they speak to you and they change. It's like I just this one thing, I just sold it. In the in the first 10 minutes, this guy, this man and woman they meet, and you think they're gonna be this great, this this love stories can be wonderful. And then boom, there's just this like tragic death. It's kind of in a thriller action thing. And by it's a TV show, so near the end of the pilot, she dies. And that's the way it was all planned, that's whales all written. I liked her character so much, and they were so good together, that it was like, okay, we're not going to kill her now, you know, we're gonna change this, because she, she just did things that became so important. And she became such a part of the story that we never intended, I never intended that now, she is kind of the second lead in the show. So she's gonna, you know, it's all gonna work out. So that's, I guess, again, the thing that I say, I don't like to outline don't, I don't want to get too locked in, I would always recommend that to be flexible. You know, just because this is the way you thought you were gonna do it when you started. Don't Don't lock yourself into that, because there's so many moves that can be made. And, and if you find, if, as you're writing, and you find something that wow, this feels like it's really working, and I really like it, that means it's really work. And it's probably good, you know, so keep going, keep that person. If that dynamic, you need those two people to really make it work, then don't get rid of the one person. And so um, so there's, there's all that stuff in and characters again, they just, they evolve, and they write I mean, the way I write is I write as many pages as I can in a day. And then when before I start the next day, I go back and I read all the pages that I wrote the day before, and then I kind of change and I tweak and I do all that stuff in those, those first pages. And I keep going that way. So I'm always rewriting. And like, if I just stuck on page 40, I'll go back to page one, and read all the way through and start making changes. And I just keep doing it.

Alex Ferrari 47:15
So that's kind of so so in your writing process on a daily basis, you let's say you write 20 pages, the next day, you'll you'll come and read those 20 pages, and it's almost kind of like a runway to get you going to the next gen like Dodge, as opposed to just starting cold. Pick it up. Exactly.

Mark L. Smith 47:31
I'm already now Okay, I'm with them. I'm with the journey. Now. It's like I'm going I've got momentum. And so it's like, I just keep going and, and it's a quick read, you know, because you know what's going to happen and stuff, you're just kind of seeing if everything is flowing, and if you bump on anything, and then if not you just like you said to run what you just take off.

Alex Ferrari 47:46
And when I'm writing, you know, when I was writing my my nonfiction and fiction books, I do the exact same thing. Sometimes I'll get caught. And I'm like, Where do I? Where do I go from it? Let me just reread this chapter. And you just start back and it just all of a sudden, oh, there it is. And it just, it's kind of like you're picking up a signal or radio signal almost like your channel.

Mark L. Smith 48:05
Yeah, a little beacon back there, you know that you get Okay, and then I got that now I can go but it is true, there are those little things that that you've put in this first sections that you knew were going to take you to the next ones, you just sometimes have to remind yourself, you know, and just see them again.

Alex Ferrari 48:18
Now another thing and I would love to hear your point because you've you've sold a lot of scripts, you've been working in the business for a long time. When and I'm sure you probably did this originally because if not, you wouldn't have sold your first scripts or options your first scripts with the the way that the script is formatted. I've always heard that you people want to see a sea of white, they want to see as much white as possible not as not a lot of description not a lot of black. Unless and obviously dialogue to a minimum unless you turn into you know, which then you do whatever you want. That's a whole other that's another thing. And then also before I'm gonna just go sign off for a second people are always use quit and Shane Black Sorkin you know, Kaufmann these kind of giants in the screenwriting space and they're like, well, we'll quit and does this and and I was reading a quitting script the other day and there was some grammar grammatical errors. And I always tell them, dude, he could he could misspell every word. And it's still gonna get sold. He's at that place.

Mark L. Smith 49:18
That's that's so that's so exactly right. I mean, you just you don't ever pattern the way you're going to do things the way off you know Tarantino or stalking, you know, it's just you're not gonna be able to and right it's you you do want my thing is always I tried to be as sparse with words. I get very descriptive in my in my action. The because the short

Alex Ferrari 49:43
though but short

Mark L. Smith 49:45
Yeah, it's short, but it's I want people to know I it's like you get one shot at reads and read in a screenplay can be kind of a cold read. You know, it's like it's not. They aren't the warmest emotional thing. So I do add flavor I do. Mine's a little different. There. was an executive at Paramount once that told me that, you know, she got a script without a title page. And she started reading and she knew it was mine, because it was the way it was written and a lot of haze a lot of ellipses and I just, I go, and I continue action and then a lot of dialogue, and I'm, I'm doing action down here and, and I space it out, but I want people to, I want people to really invest, you know, because I've got him for a read. And if I have him for 10 pages, if I don't have after 10 pages, if I don't have him for those 10 I don't have them, you know, and so it's like, you've got to be you want to you want to pull them into the story. And sometimes you just, you know, the description for me helps it more than the dialogue, you know, you can, that was what I was gonna say on some of the ones that I, I kind of got off my path I got early on, I got real, I thought, well, I've kind of figured out the structure and all this, I'm going to get super cute on dialogue. And every single person is going to have all these really snappy lines, and it's going to sound great, and people are gonna love me and think I'm so clever. And what it was, was, every character sounded exactly the same. And they were all annoying, you know, it was just like, oh, enough, enough of the cue banter, you know, and so you just, you don't want to do that you you just want to, again, keep people keep people authentic, you know, keep keep, you know, keep them real.

Alex Ferrari 51:15
Now you you've written a handful of horror scripts and thriller esque scripts in your in your day. In your opinion, what makes a good terrifying film? Or script? Is there an element or a couple elements that you feel? Yeah,

Mark L. Smith 51:31
I mean, you need that kind of cool hook on a horror script, you know, that it's something, you know, like a vacancy where it's like, they know, they're going into the hotel and their cameras, you know, and now, you know, it's gonna be a snuff film. It's weird.

Alex Ferrari 51:44
It's a terrifying concept. Because we've all i think that's another thing, if you feel like you've been there, or are going to be there, like, Look, if there's a giant shark coming after you like, chances are, I'm not going to be that's not gonna happen to me, right. But if but going into a motel on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere,

Mark L. Smith 52:00
a lot of people have done that. Airbnb now or whatever, you know, you don't really know where they are. So that to me was that you get a hook, and it's a hook that people can relate to. And then it goes, everything goes back for me to the characters, you have to then build characters that you care enough about that the audience will care enough about that it matters, whether they get through it or not, you know, that you're rooting for them that because if they're people that you don't care, you might get some jumpscares out of or whatever, but you're not going to be really an audience won't be tense, they won't be frightened. Because they don't really care what happens, you know, the fate of the characters and so that it's it's you just have to you have to write you know, characters that people want, you know, want to love want to protect.

Alex Ferrari 52:41
Yeah, cuz if you think of Well, I mean, the exorcist. I mean, Jesus. I mean, like, that's one of the I mean, you want you want you want to save that little girl.

Mark L. Smith 52:50
Yeah, that's it. I

mean, so that's it so often, that's really what it comes down to. And I mean, any great you know, any great story is really about you just want the people to be okay at the end of it. I mean, if if it's like a thriller, man on fire denville you know, and so we've got a fan, which is just, I just love that film. But these guys these two characters that you care so much about, you know, his journey, and then this little girl in that relationship, and then all the other stuff that happens you're just so tense because you're not tense because the guns are firing, you know, you're not tense, because the cars are flying around. You're tense because the people you care about are in the car or getting shot, you know, and so, it's always you just always have to remember characters is the key.

Alex Ferrari 53:32
Yeah, I mean, you look at you look at something and everyone listening on the show knows that's one of my favorite scripts of all time, Shawshank. I mean, it's all about Tyler Hunter, because it's just, it's, it's about you know, a guy who's been thrown in jail and it's in that what is in the 40s 30s 40s something like that. Yeah, 4050s or something like that takes place. And it's you know, it's a horrible name. Let's I mean, if you think The Revenant was a rough sell, I mean, Shawshank Redemption is even more. But it's all about you. You follow? You know, Andy dufrane you following red? You? It's all about character. The plot is fantastic. Don't get me wrong. Yeah.

Mark L. Smith 54:11
No, it's I feel like it's a near perfect film. I just hate that movie. And it's everything about it. The world the character, you know, and even the stuff you know, that that was, I know was written into that because i've you know, I've read the script and the stuff that you think is just a director's choice, but it was on the page, you know, the, the vibe of what this place feels like and what these guys were, you know, no, it's it's wonderful.

Alex Ferrari 54:36
It's Frank. It's a fab. Frank is Frank. Okay. He does okay. Yeah,

Mark L. Smith 54:40
yeah. I think he's gonna make

Alex Ferrari 54:42
i think i think he's, I think he's gonna make it is gonna be fine. Yeah. That your latest film that just got released a little bit ago, the midnight sky. How did you get involved with that in George Clooney?

Mark L. Smith 54:52
It was I got my manager found the book. It was just this kind of little thing. So I'll book review on it and he sent it To me, and, and I didn't read it for a long time, I was really busy. And I said, I don't think so and everything. And so I slipped it to my daughter, and who she and I actually wrote a script together this shooting summer, but but so she said, she said, You need to read this because you're gonna want to do it. And so and she was right. So I read it and loved the characters loved the setup. And then knew I was gonna change certain things, again, kind of like we're talking about it, it was I, I grabbed hold of, of kind of a core there and then want to do my own thing with it. And so I wrote the script, we sold it to Netflix, just the pitch. I didn't pitch Luckily, but my producers are really good talker. So he loves Netflix. So I wrote it, and then it came out. Okay, and we sent it. We were looking for directors, but we were also thinking about the character of Augustine and who we could get we kept thinking about cloning, we thought well, who's a director that could, you know, that could get George and we didn't think George

Alex Ferrari 56:05
Lucas was the director who could get George George George could get George.

Mark L. Smith 56:10
But, um, so we did, yes. So we sent it, it got to him more for the acting part of it. And then he read it and said, No, but you know, I'd really like to direct it. So there were a few different directors that we're trying to get at that point. And we just loved the, the Clooney package. So we, we we did that. And it came together like incredibly fast. And probably God, three months after I wrote it, it was in pre production, it was like super fast.

Alex Ferrari 56:35
I mean, I remember when when George came out with his first when his first directorial film, the one about the Gong Show guy confessions of vessels of dangerous, dangerous, but I was so blown away by his, by his take his his choices, as a director, he doesn't get as much credit for the directing, because his persona, and his acting is so locked, that shadow is so large that the directing almost gets swallowed up. But man is accomplished director, man really so good.

Mark L. Smith 57:06
There's like an ease to it, which I think is, is sometimes people don't appreciate what the effort that goes into it also is acting as well. No, just is amazing. He makes it look so easy. That it's it is um, you know, it's not always appreciated. But, um,

Alex Ferrari 57:19
and how is it? How is it collaborating with him?

Mark L. Smith 57:22
It was great. It was really great. I mean, it was it was nice, because he loved the script. And he didn't, he didn't want to do a lot to it, you know, like some directors and then he made some tweaks. The biggest changes, I think, we ended up going because Felicity Jones turned out to be pregnant, she, she wasn't pregnant when she was cast. And so the character, her character, Sally was this kind of loner who never wanted a relationship. And everything that we'd built was this idea that she was she was traveling to space and stuff. So she would never have to settle at home and actually have a relationship with another human being. So now suddenly, we had our our character was that and now she's pregnant. And it's like, Wait,

Alex Ferrari 58:00
does that happened? immaculate? conception.

Unknown Speaker 58:05
It's different movie.

Alex Ferrari 58:07
That's a whole nother movie. immaculate conception and space. Somebody pitched that pitch that right now. That's ours. Yeah.

Mark L. Smith 58:17
But it um, so. And then. So George was in London when it happened. And, and he goes, Okay, we've got to make some changes. And I was over here in the States. And so he and Grant Heslov who they've written so much stuff together, I mean, nominee for Oscars and stuff, so they know exactly what they're doing. So they ended up working in the pregnancy angle, I didn't, I didn't do that one. And so the stuff that happened on the ship changed a lot because it became so much more about her pregnancy, because that was such a part of the story, that other stuff that was kind of built in for conflict, and everything kind of lost that. But um, but it was a trade off in some ways, because it was, it probably worked to some advantage, because there was maybe a little more of an emotional thing, because now it's like, you know, there's a child that you're kind of protecting for the future. Also, it's not just a bunch of adults on

Alex Ferrari 59:02
there. It's, it's fantastic. That's it. I mean, you have had a heck of a ride so far. Mark, I have to say,

Mark L. Smith 59:09
I know. And it's fun because it's enabled. I just get to work with this the best you know, it's just really talented people. And it's like all these people that are kind of, you know, walkthrough just watching their films and stuff. And now to be able to actually kind of interact with them and stuff. It's and work with them is really cool. I'm incredibly lucky.

Alex Ferrari 59:28
Yeah, it's and that's what I was gonna I was thought we were going to talk about earlier is there isn't a matter of luck for this. But the thing is, there's no question because there's a there's 1000 other screenwriters who are really good writers. But the differences I feel with is luck, helps once you've prepared for it. And once you you need to help it along. And then certain things kind of like the character in a story. It starts to Miranda but you've got to give it that that push that fuel. Yeah, that's what's writing constantly and getting all Those scripts out and, and putting yourself out there. And that's when these things happen. Because if you don't write those scripts, chances of anyone knocking on you don't go, Hey, can you write a script for Alejandro? and forgot? George? Like, that doesn't work that much. Yeah.

Mark L. Smith 1:00:16
I always took it like the old, you know, the old good fishermen, you know, good guys a lot of lines, you know, yeah. And, you know, you're not gonna, you know, you're probably not gonna get a bite with one. But if you throw out 10 or 12, you thought we cast out those many hooks, then you just your odds increase. And so it's luck. But it's also kind of perseverance is kind of just not never stopping. You know, it's never, like I said, if you if you write one, and then just hand it off, and hope, you know, for the best and, man, if I, you know, I should be lucky enough to get that it's not gonna you know, it's not gonna happen. You've got it, you've got to keep going. Because not only are you increasing your chances for luck, but you're increasing your chance, you're increasing your skill, you're getting better so that the, the fifth sixth one is going to be better than the first one, no matter how much you love the first script. The fifth one's always gonna be better, you know? And so it's just the way it is you everybody gets better when they you know, use the muscles,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:07
and then and also work on a dude ranch, obviously, yeah, that

Mark L. Smith 1:01:12
was one of the things that I one of my early scripts was all on a dude ranch and so did that. But

Alex Ferrari 1:01:16
that gets old did that gets old, it got optioned.

Mark L. Smith 1:01:19
It did never come later. So yeah, so. But it is one of those things that also helps to write what you know. Yeah, I was gonna say that. Yeah. Because, um, it's, it's one reason that I, I've always kind of stayed away from sci fi. So I'm, I'm not, I don't really know, I don't love writing technology technologies. I've always found if I bring into story, I use it as a cheat. You know, it's like, I want people to have to deal with their own emotions and their own conflicts and their own stuff. And I don't want to have to be able to use technology to get in and out of stuff. And I know other great writers smarter than me can use it well, but it was even like on Star Trek, whenever I told a told witness. It's like I I'm not a Star Trek guy. You know, I'm not a big sci fi guy. I know the characters. And I like the relationships and all this and I know about it, but he goes, don't worry about that. I'll take care of all the, you know, the big sci fi stuff and everything. Would you do that? And so you kind of find what you know, when you write what you know, don't try, especially when you're starting out, don't try to try to write something that doesn't feel like a fit. Because if it feels clumsy, it's probably gonna be clumsy at first, you know, just kind of build build up to that.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:20
And I have to ask, because I know, I'll get shot if I don't. How did you get involved with quitting and Star Trek? Like how? Because I've heard of the, I've heard of this, this story in town that, you know, Quinn's gonna make a Star Trek movie and he's writing a Star Trek movie. And it's going to be whatever, like pulp and fiction and space. I don't know. But so how did you and generally couldn't doesn't work with other writers? He generally is a lone wolf like yourself. How did that work? How did you guys get together?

Mark L. Smith 1:02:45
It was it was through JJ Abrams. And so it's through Bad Robot. I've done a few things with them. And so they always they kind of bring me stuff. It was like they had a tough script. Guillermo del Toro that they that he was on and so I worked on that with with him I worked on and then with Edgar Wright on a script with for JJ and stuff, which was another I mean, completely different experience, but just as much fun. But, but Tara Tino was like, he wanted to do this. And then we so we all gather in your room, and we talked about the ways in and so after that, he they just called me it was like the day later and said, Hey, are you up for Do you want to go? And if so, you know, quitting wants to wants to hook up. So I said, Yeah, sure. So and that was were like, one of the first times I ever I guess it was the first day I met when we were in the room. And he's reading a scene that he wrote, and it's like this, this awesome scene, and he's acting it out. And he's doing the book, back and forth. It's like I told him, I said, Man, I'm just so mad at my phone, like, record it. At that point, this would be like, so valuable. It was just amazing. But um, so yeah, so then it was that then I then just we started, where do I go? Right? We hang out. I go hang out his house one one night and watch old gangster films. I mean, we're there for hours. I don't

Alex Ferrari 1:04:02
know what to film on film, obviously, on film. Yeah,

Mark L. Smith 1:04:05
in his little in his theater. He's got this amazing, huge theater attached to his house on film, he actually had his projection is from his theater there on Beverly coming on coming through it. So it's just, you know, we're just kicked back and I watched some gangster films laughing at the bad dialogue, you know, and, and then, but talking about how it would kind of bleed into what we want to do. And so, um, so yeah, then it was it. I don't know. I give it 10% chance that ever gets made. You know, it's one of those things that's so tricky for him to do. It's like if he really wants to, he's got this set limit that he puts on and he keeps, he'll tell me he's got an you know, well, I can say it's not an original so it won't count against my you know, his Yeah. And so, but I think it's, it's, I would love for to happen my god I'd be I'd just be thrilled if it did. But I gotta

Alex Ferrari 1:04:51
I gotta say, though, I mean, when I heard that, I'm like, how is that how is paramount? going to give? Karen Tina one of the most valuable IP They have me Quinn's gonna do what Quinn's gonna do? Like he's not he's not gonna like, you know, kowtow to studio execs on, like, Well, you know, we're gonna make some toys like yet no, it's gonna be full blown open. So how does that like when I heard that I'm like, I want to see it. I'm first in line to see it. But like, how is a giant conglomerate going to give their biggest IP, arguably Paramount's biggest IP? Yeah, to to one of the most Renegade filmmakers of his generation.

Mark L. Smith 1:05:31
Again, it goes to like, you know, guys, like Quentin can do stuff that the rest of us can't, you know, they can get into, they're going to trust him because they know what they're going to get is going to be like, something that's going to be talked about for years. You know, it's it's just and it and it was I mean, the, the script is it is so Tarantino and it's it's hard are and it's violent. And it's you know, it's got all these great elements, and, but and I guess probably too, I mean, I guess they've gone, Paramount has done different things that kind of veered back on Star Trek, they probably feel like Tarantino's worth being able to veer off path and

Alex Ferrari 1:06:07
always be its own thing. It could be its own thing. And in the Zeitgeist of Star Trek, like it's in the Pantheon. It's not going to mix in with Kirk. I mean, maybe it does. I don't know. I haven't read the script. But yeah, no, it does.

Mark L. Smith 1:06:20
Yeah. No, we've got no it's all the characters are there and stuff. And so it would be it would be those guys, but it's like, you know, I guess you look at it probably like, all the episodes of the show didn't really connect, you know, yeah, this will be almost its own episode, you know, and

Alex Ferrari 1:06:39
it's like an adventure. It's like it's a cool episode. It's like an adventure somewhere else that kind of doesn't connect with the rest of the

Mark L. Smith 1:06:45
little time travel stuff going on. There's all this other Yeah, so it's, it's not really just stop it. You're

Alex Ferrari 1:06:49
getting me excited. Stop it, and I'll never ever gonna

Mark L. Smith 1:06:52
get more angry that it has.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:55
And the more you tell me about it, like what time travel What? What's going on? I need to know. Oh, my God.

Mark L. Smith 1:07:00
It's so great. Yeah, hopefully, fingers crossed. He'll, he'll decide that he gets so bored. And he just he's gonna do it. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:07:06
I mean, it's Yeah. Oh, anyway, Alright, stop. I gotta stop. I can't I can't stop thinking about it. Because it's just gonna get me upset. I'm sure afterwards, you're gonna get quit and what's going on? Man? Are we just happening?

Mark L. Smith 1:07:18
Some angry call from the studio? Wait, what do you know? What are you talking about? You know?

Exactly how secret.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:25
So now, what's next? What are you working on next?

Mark L. Smith 1:07:28
I am doing God. Well, we've got a Daisy Ridley film that's shooting. That's the one I wrote with my daughter Marsh king's daughter starts shooting in June, we hope and it's a little little thriller that we're really excited about. I adapted a book for another book for Clooney called boys in the boat. And that is its true story of the Olympics. 1936 The crew that um, had to go over to Germany to Berlin and kind of these underdog things. It's a it's a really cool sports. You know, I just love how the script turned out. Doing a thing. I did another thing memory wall adapted for a short story that I'm Johan rank the, the director from Chernobyl and everything he's going to, he's going to do and so I don't know another thing for JJ. Couple. I'm doing a couple things with Pete Berg, who I just Yeah, I love Pete Berg. He's insane. He's insane. He's insane. We're doing this. We're doing this as quick story that I'll get out. But the first I'd never met him before. And we were going to do this Western TV show. And I go into his office and I'm just sitting there waiting. And all of a sudden I hear this screaming, yelling and it's like, God, what is going on? And it's getting louder and louder and closer. And all of a sudden the door comes open and Pete Berg runs in with his hatchet. And he's charged him he goes this is the show. This is what we're going to do. This is our show. And so

Alex Ferrari 1:08:58
did you saw yourself sir? Did you saw yourself at that point?

Mark L. Smith 1:09:01
Yeah, okay, sir. Sure. Whatever. But uh, so it was so it's he's so fun. So I'm doing doing a couple things with him and separate Robert Redford. He was going to direct but now he's producing and so yeah, it's um it's it's it's a charmed life. Sir.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:16
You lead it's in pretty.

Mark L. Smith 1:09:19
really lucky I'm waiting for like, my roof to crumble is crashed out.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:22
I have to ask because I have daughters man. What's it like working in writing with your daughter man? Like, I mean, I have young daughters. So they're not the right the stories would be interesting now. Very interesting. They would find that structure might be a little off. But um, but how is it like just on an emotional and creative level as a dad working with someone that you've raised? Like, I'm just curious, this is just purely This is not even for the show. Now. This is just me asked dad. What's it like man?

Mark L. Smith 1:09:52
It was tricky. To be honest. Now it was funny because the we we were adapting a novel but it's about a Father gets out of prison. And he's, you know, they love each other very deeply. And, but he's not a good guy. And so it's really the story is about her trying to, you know, he, she has to kill her father, you know, instead of sending her daughter thing, you know, all these emotions that, you know, all these little secrets that she had about me, you know, she's gonna, it'll all come out. It'll flow easily for but it was, he was really good. She's really good. She she feels a lot of the gaps in my writing, you know, so she, she finds things that kind of keep it going and, and, and really good with female characters and stuff. So that that's good as well. She'd always helped me with stuff. She was always kind of the first person I would send a script to when I was done with it and let her read it and stuff. She went to NYU Tisch, and, um, and majored in writing and stuff up there dramatic. But so, but the process was tricky. Because there would be feelings hurt, it was almost it wasn't unlike, and I, you know, it's like, we can have our arguments, but 100 was always gonna win my daughter, and I learned and I could always have arguments, but I was always gonna win, you know, and so that's just the way it was. And, um, and so, so

Alex Ferrari 1:11:07
you were the 800, you were the 800 pound gorilla in that in that room? Well, 100 was 800.

Mark L. Smith 1:11:14
I know, I wish I thought to kind of do all my, my arguing and like that in all 100 Spanish accent, you know, to really get some flavor. But um, but it was good. And it turned out, it turned out really well. And we've done other stuff together since so it's like, yeah, we haven't killed each other yet.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:30
That's I can imagine that must be tricky. Because even when I I've shot some stuff with my daughters for school, and it's, I'm directing them, and I'm directing them in a scene and it's just like, it's, it's in my wife. It's hard. My wife would be sitting there like, they're not actors. They're your daughters. I'm like, and I'd get frustrated. I'm like, No, you gotta do this. And you're like, they're they're eight.

Mark L. Smith 1:11:56
Luckily, yeah, luckily, I started very young in college, when Lauren was born, so it was, she's she's older so she can take my, my kind of yelling, it's like, No, you know, structure this has to happen by Hey, what are you talking about? You know, so, but it's no, it's, it's really, it's turned out? Well,

Alex Ferrari 1:12:14
fantastic. Now I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. Okay, what are the three screenplays every screenwriter should read? Oh, God.

Mark L. Smith 1:12:24
Oh, man, you pop this on me? See, I would I would point people I would. I would steer people away from a Tarantino script for almost the reasons you were talking about earlier. It's an outlier. He's an outlier. Yeah. You don't want to do that. Because you don't want to pick that stuff up. You don't want to get infected because because you're just not going to do it as well. You know, so you're always gonna write bad parenting and the best you could ever be is a bad parent, you know, and that's like, who wants to do that? Yeah, right. So

the

I mean, any anything by Sorkin is his he's just so clean and his dialogue so good. Scott Frank, out of sight. Oh, such a good move. Oh, Clooney film? Yeah. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:13:08
that thing Soderbergh? Oh, so good.

Mark L. Smith 1:13:10
Yeah. In the writing. It's so that's such

Alex Ferrari 1:13:13
an under that's such an underappreciated film because it wasn't a massive hit when it came out. I mean, in the head, obviously, George and George was George was still George but he wasn't no Ocean's 11 George hitting that he wasn't Ocean's 11 George yet, but he was still George and Jennifer Lopez was just starting to become Jennifer Lopez. And Soderbergh was still started becomes auto Berg as well. So it wasn't, it was a real kind of interesting film. But when you watch it, there's so much style. Some of the dialogue is crisp, it crackles. It's Oh, yeah. The cast line.

Mark L. Smith 1:13:45
No, just amazing. No, it's Yeah. Including I would talk about that one a lot. Because it didn't. To me, it's like it's probably my favorite of his films. And so but um, of the things that he started but its people it did kind of miss you know, it just kind of slipped under the radar. And I'm sure people found it later. But it's got everybody

Alex Ferrari 1:14:04
go watch out. Yeah, watch out. So

Mark L. Smith 1:14:07
via I don't know on screenplays, I'm I'm terrible at that stuff. I mean, I have my writers, you know, the,

Alex Ferrari 1:14:13
the writer so so so. Frank Aaron Sorkin, who else we study? You can't go wrong with Goldman, I guess? No, we've

Mark L. Smith 1:14:23
Goldman's was the guy that Butch Cassidy was the first movie I ever saw. So it's all in the theater. So it holds a special place in my heart. So yeah, Goldman would be the other. I mean, again, you're talking about dialogue and kind of stuff and characters. I mean, those journeys he takes, I mean, film wise, jaws is my film. I mean, that's the that's the that's my go to and um, if somebody is gonna, you know, what's your favorite guys?

Alex Ferrari 1:14:49
Can you kiss because jazz has come up so many times on the show on both my shows and it is as perfect of a film as really you can get I mean, it's such an it's a movie made in the 70s Very few movies hold the way jaw. I mean, go to godfathers and those of course but right. And there's others that the jaws man, it just hold so well. And considering we all know, it was hell. And it wasn't planned this way. And it wasn't like things just happen. It was all the mastery. It was almost like almost like a possession by Spielberg to get that made the way it was because even he thought it sucked.

Mark L. Smith 1:15:27
So scared, I know No. And what's amazing is that it holds up with a mechanical shark that was done in the 70s you know that now you look at you go got that thing. So fake, you know, but it doesn't matter. This, the characters in the story and everything are so great. And it's funny, I bumped into the only time to meet Spielberg. And it was, um, it was at this. This was after the Oscars, it was after the governor's ball and, and revenue just lost this picture. And I was kind of in a lousy mood. And I was I was kind of saying stuff, my wife, we should just go home or whatever. And she said, You better get your act together and appreciate your look over there Spielberg talk and I go, you know, you're right. So I go over, and I just introduce myself and tell him he's, he's the kind of the guy that got me into this. And

Alex Ferrari 1:16:12
I'm sure he's never I'm sure he's never heard that before. Yeah.

Mark L. Smith 1:16:17
But so he goes, Okay, which movie was it? And I said, jobs. And he goes, Okay, so you're a storyteller. And so he just starts going, because he just the judges people, and they're kind of what they see in films by their favorites. And so, so that was kind of a, it was an interesting thing, because I kind of like to do consider myself a storyteller, you know, and so it was, um, it that was that was, that's my Spielberg moment. And my jaws moment. And so it just, even jaws was always there. But it just went a little bit higher after that,

Alex Ferrari 1:16:45
right. And so jaws is number one. Fair enough, that's not a bad number one to have. It's not a bad one. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Mark L. Smith 1:16:55
Right, just write every free moment. I mean, just never, you just, that's the only way it's going to happen, you know, you're, you just have to keep, you have to keep producing content. And then once you have that content, send it out. I would also say don't send anything out too soon. You know, if you're, if you're going to write something, and you've got this first draft, you call my God, this is just the best thing and you send it to your, your very best friend, they go, Oh, god, you're genius. You know, this is also great, I would love to see this movie, don't send that to any agents or anybody that you really are going to count on. Because you're going to need to do work, and you're going to look at it yourself three weeks from now and think, Oh, God, I've got to fix that, you know, I always when I wrote it, I would set it aside. And, and then I would come back to it, I write I set aside, I'd start working on something else, that pull that one out and go through it and make all the changes that I want to make for ever let anybody read it. And, um, it's really important. So it's, you just, you just want to make sure that you um, I guess it's, if you want to be a writer, you got to love writing, you know? So it's like, you're going to be doing it a lot. And so if you find that it's a chore, and you don't want to sit down and put in and write the words and look at those blank pages. And then you're probably you're not gonna be great at it, because you're not going to want to do it for very long, you know, and I guess maybe that's what that instructor know that first guy that if I when he said to me, none of you guys are going to ever write a script, you think you are but you're not. It's probably what he was thinking. Because it's just, it's not for everyone, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:18:28
but but there are moments I'm assuming, even in your writing, where you just don't want to sit down is there or do you always like, there's moments you're like, Oh, God, I can't crack that next scene. I don't want to go in there right now. I mean, there has to be those moments, right?

Mark L. Smith 1:18:42
Every right. There's our I usually I try to have two things going. Now that never I slam into a wall here. It's like, Okay, let me go over here, because I'll beat my head against you for two or three days and realize I'm not getting anywhere. So I'll jump in this one. Fine, kind of get my flow. And then I'll go back here and do that thing where I read through again, it's like, oh, yeah, that and then gets me through it. And so it's it is kind of nice to have to

Alex Ferrari 1:19:03
know. And what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Unknown Speaker 1:19:11
Oh my god.

Mark L. Smith 1:19:14
I'm a slow learner. It really, I think it probably comes to if you think you're good at it doesn't mean it's gonna be easy. You know, I think that's what really took me a while to figure out it was like, wait, I'm writing this stuff, and it's good. And I know it's pretty good. You know, people are telling me is good, but why isn't Why isn't it selling or why isn't getting made? You know, why are they making this instead of that? And you just have to realize you have you kind of just have to trust yourself and kind of the process is isn't simple. And so you just you've got to you got to be in for the ride and and know that, you know that to be patient. You know, I guess maybe patience is the thing to learn because it's it's The good stuff rarely happens easily and quickly. You know, and it's, um, you know, the stuff, the stuff that you remember. I mean, Revenant meant so much more to me because it took seven years to get made than it would have if it got made in this first six months. You know, it's like, it was such a journey and these things that you fight with, and that you just, you know, so and patients because it's at ups and downs, so you just gotta, you just gotta be able to ride them all pay

Alex Ferrari 1:20:25
me I'm telling you, patience is my anytime I asked to answer my own question. It's like, it's patience, man. I it's never gonna go as fast as you think it's gonna go and it's it will probably go slower. And then your thinking is going to be at every level.

Mark L. Smith 1:20:40
Yeah, no, and you can't even sometimes get sucked into where, you know, like, oh, wow, these two things happen quick. Now. I've figured out the way it's gonna work. So they're all gonna happen now. It's just the next one's gonna stop and it'll be three or four years, you know? So

Alex Ferrari 1:20:51
That's amazing. The Mark, man, thank you so much for being on the show, bro. It is

Mark L. Smith 1:20:55
No, no, this was so great. No, I thank you for inviting me. Yeah, this was this was really fun. And as we're talking, I'm just, I'm admiring your room. I love all that stuff. But no, this was this was so great. And please, next time you talk to Suzanne, tell her I said hi.

Alex Ferrari 1:21:13
I will. Thanks again.

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IFH 630: The Evolution of Your Creative & Filmmaking Dream with Kyle Cease

After over 20 years of achieving what he thought were his dreams of being a headlining touring comedian and actor, Kyle Cease suddenly discovered that the belief “When something happens, I will be happy” is a complete lie.

Following the calling of his heart, he decided to quit his stand-up career at its peak, and now—as a transformational comedian and New York Times bestselling author of I Hope I Screw This Up—he brings his one-of-a-kind wisdom to sold-out audiences around the world and reaches millions online.

Kyle Cease has made more than 100 different TV and movie appearances, including 10 Things I Hate About You, Not Another Teen Movie, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, Chelsea Lately, The Martin Short Show, Comics Unleashed, and numerous VH1 shows. He has two #1 Comedy Central specials to his credit and, in 2009, Kyle earned the #1 ranking on Comedy Central’s Stand-up Showdown.

Enjoy my conversation with Kyle Cease.

Alex Ferrari 0:20
I'd like to welcome to the show Kyle Cease, How you doin Kyle?

Kyle Cease 0:52
I'm so good, man. It's so good to see you.

Alex Ferrari 0:55
Good seeing you too man. I, I we were just talking before we started recording that, you know, we both come from the insane world of the entertainment business and two different fields. And I've walked over some of the same courses that you have over the years. Yeah, absolutely. RapidILL. Which brings me to my very first question I always love. I've worked with a lot of standup comics throughout my career as a director. And they're very interesting group of people. And in, I've always found that comedians are not the happiest people I've ever met. And there, they got deep things going on. And it's interesting. I love to find out what drew you to comedy because it is arguably one of the toughest things to do stand up comedy specifically to do in the entertainment business.

Kyle Cease 1:45
Well, you know, one aspect of why I was so lucky was I started at so young that I didn't get to get to the stage where it would be a scary thing. In fact, it actually birthed after I'd been doing it for 15 years. So in other words, like when you're a kid, you just you know, well, there's other aspects too. I will say I was born into a family that energetically had some aspect of themselves that were used to being in the entertainment industry. So my uncle was the prop man for Gallagher.

Alex Ferrari 2:16
I am old enough. I'm old enough to remember Gallagher's. Yes.

Kyle Cease 2:19
Right and he'd spent time also doing a lot of carrot tops props, too. But when I was in like second grade, I remember a spending time in Gallagher's warehouse. I mean, is there any way better to get a child into stand up comedy than Gallagher because his his his giant toys and smashing fruit and and then having this intellectual conversation, I as a child, really remember also feeling connected to my dad through that, like my dad was always playing New Gallagher specials and laughing and that's where my dad seemed to light up. And that's where I felt a connection to him. So I as a child, wanted to feel that love with him. And I feel like unconsciously stand up comedy was a given that that's the way to do it. I remember very well in second grade, Mrs. Blaylock, my teacher in second grade, giving me five minutes to do whatever I wanted at the end of the week and me doing Gallagher's material, which was funny because I was talking about sex and taxes with a southern accent and didn't get any of the jokes. I would I would use props to add up my dad's underwear and be like women you go out shopping you buy us underwear that fits cardboard, am I right guys? I'm saying Am I right guys to second graders. And you know, doing this stand up act and really feeling the most entertaining TV to me was either sitcoms or stand up comedy. I was not very much into cartoons. I really loved Mike, my favorite show as a child was a&e as an evening at the Improv and then watching all these comics was amazing. And so I was doing it throughout elementary school. I was doing assemblies and different things like that. And, you know, I think one aspect I'm realizing now as I do so much inner work and awareness work is that even though it was my passion and my highest drive, I believe it also kept me safe meaning like my feeling of safety with my father was that we bonded through comedy like my dad was often and I love my dad, but he was often as a child, he was in his head didn't feel like he was there. And I felt loved if stand up comedy was involved, right? So we bonded via TV we bonded through laughing. And so I kind of wonder if my dream career that was like my, you know, my dharma and my calling was actually you know, me not getting hurt or me not getting unseen. And you know, me creating this thing that I had to do for safety and for expansion. And you know, in junior high I noticed I am I was a chubby kid but I am so loved if I'm doing stand up if I do an assembly if I speak Get something I'm getting more loved. And so I was doing comedy clubs, small comedy clubs at 12 1314. And then like public access shows, and being able to walk into school and be like, did you guys see me on TV yesterday, and then at 15, I was like a middle act at comedy clubs and. And so, because of that, I learned how to be a comedian before I learned how to be a person. And all of the aspects of what I needed to know how to be as a person continue to grow. Now, it's like, there's a quote, I don't remember what the actual quote is, or, or you know, the basis of a but once you get famous, and I'm sure not saying I was a child star, but once you have this recognition for a talent, you kind of stopped growing. In other words, like I was able to dry off my tears with stand up at night or get love with stand up or get attention with stand up or be seen. And so it was hard for me to develop the same way, I think, as most people, because I was a comedian, also a musician, a singer and different things. So I had this constant weapon to get love and to be seen. And it wasn't until I was like in my mid 20s, that with my career through the roof, and everything that I actually developed stage fright for the first time. And it was just because I had almost taken for granted that I could just do this. And I was touring so much that I ended up finally at one point, creating stage fright. And that was what opened the door to my entire conscious awakening going through a motivational Tony Robbins phase. And that shifting to me understanding, vibration and flow and now really understanding more and more than now, all of those happened when the aspects of my ability to hide behind my success. Were starting to fall apart. Right? They needed to to get me to find me. And so, so yeah, so I didn't it is a hard business. But for me, I was almost unaware of that was born into it, if you will, yeah, yeah, kind of my grandma was also a puppeteer on The Carol Burnett Show. I also have an uncle who's a Grammy nominated jazz musician on my mom's side. I am my grandma, on my mom's side was a massive political activist. Like it was very happy birthday was in five part harmony and my right and, and so there was a lot of just given that we're, this is a thing that is part of me that I'm an entertainer, but that I didn't learn a lot of the aspects of being a person or at least aware as a human being. And even higher than that, until way later.

Alex Ferrari 7:49
No, no, I, you know, I've obviously, I've read both of your books, I've studied a lot of the things you've done. And what I find fascinating about your story is, and you've kind of touched upon it in that first answer, which is you had a very successful comedy career. I mean, you had specials you had number one comedy specials, you're touring all the time, you know, you're making a living doing what arguably, you love to do. But as you said, things started to fall apart. And this is where historically, a lot of comics destroy themselves. Yes, they start going down, you know, you know, obviously, the James Baluchis and these kinds of folks, you know, they start to destroy themselves, but you didn't do that. So what was the thing that caused you to go towards the direction you went to?

Kyle Cease 8:32
That's a great question. So one of the things is weird, I'm gonna bring up 2020 and 2021 for a second, because I think it ties to this. But one of the things I see this time as being is the fall apart of our false identities. In other words, if you look at 2019, you might have had a decent enough job, or the ability to escape via travel or going to restaurants effortlessly, or whatever. You just had a medium enough relationship, whatever, that you didn't have to go within. And then it seems like 2020 just collapsed all of these little false identities, right? That, that you are a whatever, that your identity is your connection to your family. Well, a lot of families separated in the last two years, right, that your identity is your career. Well, a lot of people got laid off, that your identity is that you're someone who gives all authority to outside of you, the media, the government, whatever, and now you kind of are questioning what the hell's going on. This is what I see as the universe's way of making us go inward. You know, like, instead of looking at it from what's going on with them, like the government's or whatever, it's this opportunity to go inward. I started realizing that every time something is falling apart in our lives, it's trying to kill what we think we are but not what we truly are. And so, as a stand up comic, I at one point was so the first fall apart happened. When I, I was, at one point really successful as a stand up comic, I had done a ton of colleges, I had headlined a lot of clubs. And it was just a thing that I do, there was not a part of me that even asked asked anything deeper about what I am, you're just go to the next gig, make money, get partying with people have a great time, whatever, go to the next gig have a great time. Well, at one point, I'm on stage and I at that point, I'm maybe 2526, I could do my act in my sleep, I could go on stage and I had just performed every single night, an hour and a half or so a night at these colleges and killed so hard that it wasn't challenging me. And I could go on stage and be spacing out and deliver not even know what I'm saying. And just like run the motions, kill have a really good response. But it didn't challenge me to keep creating, I could do my act. You know what I'm saying? It was like I had the act. And sometimes it would write itself more on stage. But I really believe that if you're not creating your your mind will creatively sabotage you. Right? It'll come up with stuff. So one day I'm on stage, I'll never forget this. I'm in Mesquite, Nevada, and I'm on stage and I'm killing and out of nowhere, my mind goes, I wonder if you could think about it enough if you could make yourself faint. That was the thought I had. And I remember right when I thought that I started like waiting out. And so I thought oh my god, and then you know that thing where people say you can't not think about something like don't think a pink elephants thing, you know? And of course, so I've started believing about that you can't not think about something. So I'm basically this unraveled this thought I'm on stage doing different material while inside. I'm going in like there's two me's going on. There's a me outside delivering standup, and there's a me inside going, you cannot think about something. So what, what if you just keep thinking about fainting, and then you'll faint when you're on stage, and it'll ruin your career. And the underlying belief is I am my career, right? Like, I don't know, anything I am without my career. Like, there's no reason to live without my career at that, like, I am this person that has the sets. I get love from this. I haven't gotten to a depth yet that investigated anything past that. So it was just like, what if you think about it so much, if you'll make yourself faint. This started snowballing into the craziest thing. And the other thing was the year before I had done at one point, like 200 colleges in a row and every flight, every gig was two flights away or more. And I didn't sleep, lived on Drive Thru, drank had coffee. And then you know, at the end of that tour, was able to be on autopilot yet my body was gone it there was no you know, your your life is your career. So you're not even thinking sleep, you're I would go on stage and he just be so exhausted. And then the Act would make me so hyper and excited that I would wake up when I need to go to sleep, because it's night, you know, and then everyone wants to party and you're hanging out with people. It was the craziest thing you know, because you now you're excited. You have you have to get to the airport at 4am. That's three hours away in a different time zone. So you'd stay up with these, these people are you hanging out or you're just too high in your own hotel room and you can't sleep so you get like 40 minutes asleep, drive to the next gig two, three flights away. So imagine on top of this sabotaging thinking, my body is just dead it, there's no nutrition in it, there's no, I've hit a wall of exhaustion. That is unbelievable, right? So all of that's in there. So the beginning of all of my shift was this first fear. Where what if I think about it, and then ruin my career, like basically the crazy kind of brilliant creative thinking but in the negative is you'll not be able to stop thinking about fainting when you're on stage. And that will ruin your career, and then you'll be nothing. Right? And so I walk off stage after that first night and everyone's going great show and I'm going I'm gonna faint I know. It sounds so stupid and weird. But it was really profound for me because I'm like, you guys, it'll be this thing. And people would just kind of belittle it like, Oh, it's nothing and I'd be like, that makes me be like, No, I'm going to prove it to you. It's really bad. Like, we love to prove our limitations, right and, and I'm going to prove it to you like you're wrong. This is really a nightmare. This started becoming a thing I'd worry about all day. I'm going to faint when I'm on stage and that will be the end of my career. This built bigger and bigger and bigger. While I'm at this the biggest height of it becoming a snowballing crazy panic attack anxiety thing. I booked my first Comedy Central appearance on the show premium blend. And my manager says you just got premium blend. This is big and he goes don't blow it and I'm like it's six months. out, how could I blow it? And I'm like, what if I faint on premium blend? And I'm like, That's my big opportunity. I finally get this Comedy Central career down, I have all the foundation, and I get the stupid freaking anxiety. And I'm like, what if I faint when I'm on it, I know this sounds crazy, but it was really huge. And so I start thinking, I'm going to, I'm going to faint when I'm on premium blend. I started picturing it, I start going through this whole thing. For six months, this gets to a point where I almost can't do gigs anymore. I remember going to an assembly I'm performing at a junior high assembly and with this girl that I was dating at the time, and she's like, Baby, you're not going to faint. And I'm like I'm so I like I'm so it's crazy. And they had this huge, wide open hardwood floor like a gym floor. And I for the first time start wobbling and I see her like in the audience like, Oh my God, he's gonna faint, and I grab a chair now. And I'm in a chair now. Like, this is the first time of doing my act sitting. And this is proving to me, Oh, my God, it's going to be a horrible thing. Like you're going to it's this thing. This gets to the point where now that was so traumatic, that I had almost the reverse the opposite of claustrophobia. In other words, I was scared of giant gym floors like, and if I was walking on any hardwood floor, whoever I was dating at the time would have to hold my hand with me. And like I described gravitated to, I almost can't walk yet, I'm still taking gigs, because I am I am, you know these gigs. And I don't know anything past it. So I'm going through airports. And I'm, and I'm unable to walk. And I'm like, I remember going through the Chicago airport, and that long underground thing where the lights are going. And I'm, I'm kneeling on a baggage cart along the thing because I can't, I can't walk anymore. And I'm trying to get to the next gig. And I do premium blend. And I mean full anxiety. It's like the only time in my life I took a half a Xanax, I go on stage. And all I'm thinking of is Don't faint, don't faint get through this set. I do an eight minute set in six minutes, because I'm trying not to faint. So my act is crazy fast. My feet are turned on. If anyone watches my premium blend. You can see I'm holding the mic stand. I'm just trying not to faint the whole time. It's crazy how much this escalated into a thing. I walk off stage. And somehow the weird, awkward, don't faint energy that's flying through me, causes me to kill and Comedy Central goes, we're giving you a half hour special force. And the girl I was dating is like, oh, shit, now he's going to worry about failing on that, you know. And what I ended up doing was first I ended up going to the hospital to get anxiety medication. But the hospital took too long. So I'm in a waiting room. And I'm like, I'm gonna get pills for this. This could have been I'm sure not saying what anyone should do. But this could have been where I turned into John Belushi. But luckily, the hospital took too long. I'm in a waiting room for 45 minutes, and I hear this voice go get up. And it goes to get out of here. We're not going to do it. We're going to we're going to figure this out. And I have this moment where this this thing like goes, let's just figure it out. I know we have no idea what the hell we're doing. Let's just go because I was at almost suicidal level. I mean, I was really feeling like killing myself. I have these Comedy Central specials and I'm not I can't get out of this. And and there's no reason to live and you get why. If you're identified with the thing, and it's not just fame, it's it's your relationship. You're identified as your mother's kid, but she won't talk to you. You're identified as that, that achiever and now you can't achieve you're identified as a victim and no one believes you, whatever. These patterns are trying so hard to fall out of you. You're people pleaser, whatever, right? So, I go and I grab.

I go, I go for a drive. I remember calling my mom and being like, I'm gonna heal this and she's like, Why do you think you have something wrong? And I'm like, I just heard a voice like, I'm just not so. And I go to a borders. That's how long ago this was. And I look up and look up anxiety and I find a Tony Robbins book, Awaken the Giant Within and I'm like, Okay, this is where I get this first hit of a new possibility. He's talking about Yeah, you can't not think about something. Like I have that pink elephant thing. You can't not think about this, but you also can't think of two things at the same time. So what if instead I'm picturing this is basic law of attraction stuff at this at this moment was the first moment I heard this is like, what have you picture? I started thinking what if I picture that instead of I hope I don't faint on the Comedy Central special that I have the number one Comedy Central special. So I start walking around my house and just saying out loud, okay, I do the Comedy Central specialist number. I'm not bringing up the anxiety at all. I'm like, it's the best Comedy Central special, blah, blah, blah, then my mindset I was talking about the special that's after that one because it was such success. And within a few days anxieties kind of gone. And then I but then this opened a door with like, How good could it be? It's like not just get out of the anxiety, it's like How good could this be? So for several months, I just am waking up and doing this, taking my soul to the gym, I have a number one Comedy Central special, whatever, cut to the end of 2005, I'm recording a 2006 special, it's giant standing ovation, I'm confident I'm in the pocket, there's no anxiety. And it was at the top rated special, the most played special of 2006. So then this started this total achiever stage, this is not where I am now. But this started the focus on your outcome stage. I don't believe that's the highest stage. But I think that's a stage that can be very necessary to go from a victim to an achiever, right? So what happens is, when one of the things that I think is going on in the world is our false selves are falling apart, if you're identified as the self that falls apart, you're gonna go down with it, right. So if you keep being like this relationship might be trying to fall apart. But if you think your only source of love is this relationship, you might attach to it and try to keep it going. And life is going to kick your ass, it's just going to be like, You're too attached to this, you're identified with this. And life is trying to get us to cry out these patterns, that maybe you think that relationships the only thing because it actually equals your childhood, meaning like, this person feels just like Dad, Dad always abandoned me. So I'm going to date someone who always abandons me or mom always shame me. So I'm dating a person who shame me. And now this person and I are breaking up. So that would mean my Mom's leaving me. I don't know if that makes sense. But it's perfect sense. So in this time, you either are going down or up. If you are identified as the thing that's falling apart you are how much money you make. And your dad said, Good job. So that's falling apart. You're losing your dad's approval from 1974. And you're and you think that's you now, you're either going to fall apart. So I would imagine without knowing anything about what was going on. And really, and John Belushi is mine, that a lot of those stars, they got such a massive, worldwide love when they became famous. And they're identified as that. So that has to go perfect. Well, if that has to go, perfect, man. And you're not just the now and this unfolding being you're now an SNL star and a movie star, this gets the point where you don't get an audition or someone doesn't like you or whatever. And it's just, it takes nothing, right? Like, you, I remember when if you've I would used to audition for different movie roles. And you'd feel like when I booked I booked 10 Things I Hate About You, and not another teen movie, when I got those parts, like they were like, my identity, like cheerleaders from high school suddenly had a crush on me that I was the nerdy kid. And now, you know, and then you'd book and you'd get another audition and not get it. And you if that thing is the source of my happiness, then the thing not happening is the source of my sadness. Right. So these are trying to fall apart, if you grab onto the true essence of what you are, you'll go up, if you grab on to it, you'll go down.

Alex Ferrari 23:22
And that's the what's fascinating about your story is you literally started to your mind started to break down. Like it started to break down this whole thing around you to the point where you couldn't walk. But that's fascinating to me. So it's as opposed to,

Kyle Cease 23:43
Which shows you how powerful it is.

Alex Ferrari 23:45
It's extremely powerful on both ways you can go up or you can go down and that mine is extremely powerful. But you were crippled over months, over months of time, you were crippling yourself little by little. Because you were you're it's just a really interesting psychological example of what happened to you. Yes. And then that switch when Tony Robbins, his book kind of gave you a different focus on that power, it started to go up again, because you use that same, that same mind the same drive in the mind, but you started to go well, what what if it's the number one special? Now what if I think and I love the idea of not having you can't keep two thoughts in your mind at the same time, which is a very, very powerful, powerful thing. And you said John Belushi I mean, I remember when he died, he was biggest movies. The number one movie number one show number one album, he had a comedy album was number one as well. Yeah, he was literally at the on the top at the top of the world and it just key went down. The way he coped with it was with drugs, the way you coped with it as your mind just started to break you down. Yes. And you and if you would have gotten those drugs at that hospital

Kyle Cease 24:59
I wonder if I'd be dead. I wonder if I if the if the if Kaiser Permanente had been faster when I checked in there, I, you know, because they probably would have just given me something to numb this versus see what's causing it. And had I gotten pills? I really wonder, I don't know, maybe I still would have had that drive to override it and be like, I'm getting off the pills and fix this. But like, you sure get like, if all I'm feeling is anxiety, and suicidal and not worthy, like, alcohol is gonna sound good, you know, like, like, this is I need something to numb this.

Alex Ferrari 25:34
So this is very interesting, in very potent in the conversation where most most people in America, let's say or in the Western world, they look for things to numb the pain. And that could be drugs. That could be Netflix. That could be sex, that could be food. Yes, it could be, you know, relationships that could be set. I mean, it could be a million things to numb what you were going through. And I think we all go through that, in one way, shape, or form. I mean, I've told the story and I'll tell you the quick story of my numbness of when I identified as a director and my entire world was identified as a filmmaker. I was then the universe said, Oh, really? Okay, well, we're gonna give you a shot to make a $20 million movie, but there's this a little catch to it, you're gonna have to deal with a psychotic bipolar gangster, who's going to take you on the journey. And I literally was stuck in the mafia for nine months, trying to make a movie for an ex gangster, where then I was flown out to Hollywood, and I met the biggest movie stars in the world. Biggest agents biggest I did everything that the waterbottle tour did the whole thing multiple times. Even met Batman had a whole chapter in my book about how I sat in Batman's house. And we talked about, are we talking to Michael Keaton, or I it's Val Kilmer. But it's awesome, though Kilmer 2001, which was

Kyle Cease 26:57
Definitely like, it's Adam West.

Alex Ferrari 26:59
It's I always I always used to say adolescence out of West. No, but but. But afterwards, I was in a three year depression, when that whole thing fell apart. Because I identified with that it took me three years to rebuild myself to a place to even come back to a set to even come back to doing what I love to do. It took years, literally years, I hid in a in a hidden a garage, my friend's garage, organizing comic books to sell them on eBay. That's how I made a living, because I couldn't even do anything else. It was just that and that was mind numbing. By the way, that's how I numbed myself. It's just the monotonous of organizing comic books because I, for whatever reason, in this life, I don't like drugs. I don't like drinking. I wish I did. And some times when I was I wasn't a lot of pain. I wanted to numb myself, but I didn't have those options, those options were just not available to me. So so as you were telling your story, I automatically thought of mine and I had to rebuild myself to be able to get to the place and then it's a constant rebuilding throughout our amazing, but but I think people listening should really think about what they're using to numb their pain, or try to numb what's happening to them. Because I agree with you. 100% 2020 2021 It was a reset button. For millions of people around the world. Yeah, in a way. That's the billions actually, that never has happened in the history of humanity. That entire planet at one moment stopped. Yes. And we started fighting for toilet paper.

Kyle Cease 28:37
Right now that was the first which was the insanity first numbing. You know what I mean?

Alex Ferrari 28:43
I can't have an attorney. Yes, I can't have but has to be clean. Like it was. It was the we're like different in walking dead. Did you ever see people freaking out about toilet paper? No.

Kyle Cease 28:54
Thinking about water and food? That's No, I'm I know, like, I'm not worried about having the food that I going to shut out to, to wipe my butt. Like it's the it's just the after, for sure. I have a smorgasbord of food in the next two years. There's no question but for some reason.

Alex Ferrari 29:12
Like I can't I can't, God forbid have to use anything else. Like day. That's why I have a bad day now. So I don't have to worry about these.

Kyle Cease 29:19
Right! Yeah, I know that. What if the next one is a mad rush on today's like, just there's just like, I need birthdays. For my family.

Alex Ferrari 29:27
I need my but the end of the day forever and a backup a day in case the day breaks?

Kyle Cease 29:31
Right! Right, just in case. Yeah. Can I play off of what you just said? Please? What you just said is profound. Because let's talk about what this is. Let's go even deeper about what it is that we're numbing because it's not the thing. The thing becoming a director becoming a successful stand up comic getting in a relationship like getting that money is is burying some default setting that you're used to having in your body that's a negative meaning like, falling in love is so great because it's covering up the default setting of your fear of being alone. Right? Being being rich, for some people is this great thing because it covers up your default setting of shame that you have in your body. Because your mom said once, you'll never be anything unless you make money. So we have what I've the way I've experienced it in the last two years, I had so many shifts, because I was about to do major tours with huge speakers and stuff. And then 2020 happened. And I ended up just being home for two years. And that was the first time since I was a child that I didn't travel. And I just stayed home. And I did a bunch of one on ones. And thank God because I am such a better father in the last couple of years. Because of this, I have a five year old daughter who is the most incredible thing. And I would have been on tour I would have been here and and I am so grateful for what's changed. But one of the things I've learned in the last two years is that so imagine it this way, let's say you're a child, and you have a thing happened, that's too much for your body to handle like a dog snaps at you Dad hits you a mom shamed zoo, whatever, this feels so painful. That what you're bought your little child body can't handle it. So what's it do? It creates a character that you think is you it goes okay? If dad yelled at me because I got a D in school. So I'm going to become this crazy achiever. Right? So now your identity falsely is actually an identity you created to prevent trauma from happening again. And imagine that under that is a trauma that still sitting still sitting in your body. And this is why we have such a hard time just sitting with ourselves and being because that thing would finally come to light because we're at a consciousness where we could heal it if we wanted to. But we're not aware of this. So we get this false identity that says I'm an achiever. No, no, no, you created the achiever. So you wouldn't get hit, or it says, I'm whatever. And we create this false us, right? The numbing is here to help you numb this thing. That's a false view that could come out of your body that could leave your body. Right? So when you're more connected to the now, the pattern in the body that says I'm a worrier? Well, that's just because you experienced trauma, and you're still sitting in your body, right? And you haven't forgiven that thing. So you keep recreating it. Right? If you had a dad who abandoned you as that example, you're going to actually look for people that abandon you. So you can keep them here, so you can heal your shit with your dad. Right? So the way that I'm seeing it, and what I've been doing, I've had a couple 1001 on ones in the last two years. And one of the things that I do is, I noticed that people are like, I gotta build this business, I got it, whatever. And I'll say, if you don't what happens, and they'll say a sentence like then I'm a failure, then I'm unloved, right. And then what I have them do is I have them say something that the energy of failure in the body has never heard, you're allowed to be a failure in my body, meaning like, I'm here with you, even if you're a failure, I love you. Even if you're all alone, I love you even if you're abandoned. See, we've created a false belief that that thing that we that we don't want to have happen, again, from our childhood, that if it happens, it equals death. And so we're in this bizarre box of preventing an arbitrary thing that everyone has a different one of that if that happens, I die. Well, that character that's preventing it would die. So what they do is they take a deep breath, and they say to this pattern, whatever, you're allowed to disappoint other people, you're allowed to be a failure allowed to feel disappointed, you're allowed to feel abused, right? It's not saying we're aiming for it, it's saying, I'm with you, even if you feel that way. This causes almost every time a bunch of tears to come out of their eyes, and that those tears are a false pattern that they thought was them. That is not them. So when we are like oh my god, I'm a successful stand up comedian or I'm a successful director. That's helping not have a a default setting be looked at like when you're like, oh my god, I'm now a successful director. Now I'll be loved. The default setting in the body was I'm not lovable. Right? Just as is I'm not deserving just as is I'm not love. Just because I exist. It's only if I achieve something or prevent trauma. Right? And so those patterns are now coming to light and it's kind of amazing. If you look at it from a universal perspective, it's going for us to move forward, those false identities of trauma that you've kept buried in your body through addictions through whatever those patterns are going to come to light with. Do you want to or not? So imagine up to 2019, you lived in what you thought was a one story house and you kept your circumstances really good. And we use just all this Think positive stuff at that time, right? Like just the secret thing positive. Imagine that the spotlights bigger and God's shining a light on the fact that you actually have a two story house. And the two story, the second story has a bunch of bodies in it. And all these patterns and rats that we need to clear out. So the bad news is, there's a bunch of darkness in your body. The good news is your consciousness can see it now. It was there also 20 years ago, but you couldn't see it. So imagine that the lens that you're looking through is bigger. And it's going I'm going to take the patterns inside of your body that you've been burying, and we're going to release them, we're going to heal this. So we do that by getting here, because the now will will wipe that shit out, you start to oh my god, I didn't feel loved when I was eight, I didn't feel this thing. And you get present for it. And that turns into tears and comes out. And I actually pretty much have yet to work with anyone in the last two years that this didn't work for we did one on ones and found everybody's pattern and found that they're under this illusion that that that pattern is them. So you can't get rid of a pattern if you think it's you. But you're the whole now that seeing the whole thing. And when you realize that then the pattern that's been preventing that pain from happening, can die, and then the pain that you're judging still can fall out of you too

Alex Ferrari 36:35
I mean, as you're talking all I can think about is my journey in my head of like, okay, yeah, that's what that happened. And that one happened. And that would happen. And, my God, if you if I would have had the success of being a director making a $20 million movie working with big movie stars, at that time in my life, I would have absolutely self destructed because they built it would have built up to a place where imagine the people which we've seen this happen in Hollywood a lot, where there's an actor who blows up, the first movie blows up, or the director who comes out with way too, when they're young. And then maybe the second one does well, but when one of them wobbles. They just everything goes away. Like they just self destruct. Yeah, because they don't know what to do anymore. Yeah, they just truly don't know what to do anymore. Because they've identified so wholeheartedly with the thing as opposed to themselves. And I think as we get older, and if you and I are of similar vintage, you know, when we're younger, at least at least our generation at least. We, when we look back upon what we were when we were younger, you start seeing these patterns if you're doing some self work if you're doing some inner work. So when I started to write my book on my experience of the mobster and all that all of that started to come out. It was massive. It was a TA I was crying while I was writing. It was just this kind of cathartic event. And then I started thinking, you know, why haven't I gotten the shot to direct bigger movies or bigger things throughout my career? And then I started looking at who I was attracting to myself during those times. Yeah, a decade. And I'm like, Oh, I kept bringing in people that were just not right. Sabotage, I was self sabotaging myself, because I was afraid of the pain that I associated with being a director. Yes, I get it. You see what I mean? It's like all of that kind of stuff. So it's when I finally realized that and I started to like, Oh, I'm not who I who I would is I am and, and then there was this whole three year walk about I did selling olive oil and vinegar in LA, when I opened up a gourmet shop. And that's a whole other conversation. Which is just but it was the I needed to that was almost a cleansing of my filming. It was interesting. And then after I got out of the olive oil game, I started podcasting. Yeah. And I was like, Oh, this is kind of what I'm really here to do. I could do with the other stuff, too. But this is what I really love to do. But I am not I wouldn't wake up in the morning going Alex as a podcaster. Yes, that's not what I say. I'm just like, I'm Alex. I'm a dad. I'm a husband. I'm a podcast, I have multiple things I am not one thing defines me holy. So I live within the me as opposed to that, and that has liberated me and it's liberated me tremendously throughout my life.

Kyle Cease 39:41
If you think anything completes you then you're not ready for it. Right? Like in other words, that relationship will complete me well now Okay, what if they leave you you're incomplete again, right. So, so this pattern of the the false belief of incomplete is trying to come up and die and if you get the relationship that you think leaves you then it's on pause for a minute and it's still running the show. So you're you're codependent on these things. So I have a rule that if you want something really bad, you're not ready for it. Because it's, it's, it's not a match to your vibration, it's bigger than you and your mind. And and what you're talking about when these child stars are these people that get success really quickly, is like their connection to their soul is not up to par with what they perceive their connection to this success as it's higher in their opinion than their soul. So this is why a lot of child stars often fall apart, right? Or, or even, I would watch comics that were young, that would suddenly get crazy things, you know, like, they'd come on the scene and be in there for three months and suddenly be going to Montreal festival and, and and on Leno and stuff like that. And then you'd see the drinking start to really kick in and every because it's just like, this thing is bigger than me. And I know that feeling, you know, like that would be the answer of just I get this movie role or I get this thing. The default setting is I'm nothing without it. Which really the default setting is I'm nothing. I'm not anything. Just give me the movie. So am something right, right.

Alex Ferrari 41:14
Oh, god, that's so dumb. Oh my god. I'm just working with actors in Hollywood for so long. That's what it is. Yeah, he's like, if I don't get this part, I'm nothing and that's why you have to numb yourself to survive with it.

Kyle Cease 41:26
It's not even if I don't get this part. And we're really just saying I'm nothing like

Alex Ferrari 41:30
I'm nothing without the relationship. I'm nothing without the party. I'm nothing without the job. I'm nothing without the money.

Kyle Cease 41:36
But in that weird because the default is I'm nothing like that. Like, right? It's like your default setting is I'm nothing unless this movie calls me which is like so that we just live we're walking around with a bullshit false the default setting that says I'm unworthy. That's in your body. That's a lie you like, like Daryl Anka says, or Bashar says, you exist, you're worthy. You're you exist, that's your that's it? Your worthiness isn't because you're looking through your worthiness through through the world's ego, not through that you are through the Soul of the now. Right. And so I didn't mean to interrupt that. But it's just so funny that it's I'm nothing without that movie is one thing. But if we just take out without that movie, you're just saying I'm nothing

Alex Ferrari 42:21
In talking to you know, I've talked to a lot of spiritual leaders over the years, especially on the show. And I've studied people like Yogananda and, and his lineage of of Yogi's and things. And when you start studying these people, or meeting some of these spiritual masters, you realize something that when they walk, or they talk, there is a level of confidence and energy to them, that they are whole, without anything else around them. That this illusion this matrix, if you will, really doesn't define them in the lease, not the clothes they wear, not the ashram that they live in, not the wealth that they might have. Nothing, it's really, that's when when you meet, or you speak to someone like that, you you feel that confidence that energy, you watch old films of Yogananda speaking and it's just like, this just Sledgehammer of truth coming at you from from the ages, where when you meet someone, let's and I, again, this is a theme that we've been talking about some an actor, or someone in Hollywood, there's so much insecurity because they they are holding on to things that are not permanent. The only thing that's permanent is you the inside of you, your soul. That is what is the truth. Right? And until you discover that truth, you're lost in so many ways, and you're just jumping from one thing to another, trying to find wholeness. And people go through live lifetimes, like this lifetime is just again, hi, finding I need this car, I need this thing. You know, like I've told my kids so many times, I'm the worst person to buy Christmas present for because what do you want? I'm like, I'm good.

Kyle Cease 44:16
I know.

Alex Ferrari 44:16
Like, I just I don't, I don't like I don't I don't need anything and I have to find something for them to give me like that. So they can have they have the ability to give me something but I'm like I let's just go on a vacation. Like let's give you an experience that speed thinks absolutely absolutely. Because that big screen TV or that Tesla is going to be cool for like the first few days.

Kyle Cease 44:39
You tell your kids to buy your Tesla.

Alex Ferrari 44:41
I mean, obviously, I mean

Kyle Cease 44:42
I'd like a Model S

Alex Ferrari 44:44
A Model S a Model S please Yes, please. Yes. Fully loaded. Yeah. Extended extended to my

Kyle Cease 44:50
Ludicrous speed can you do that five year old five year old can you do that please? Otherwise I won't be happy

Alex Ferrari 44:57
Or otherwise you won't get my love

Kyle Cease 44:59
Yeah, right! That'll do it. Oh, that one. Oh, that's the shit that made of Michael Jackson, you know, like, right you do it or you won't get my love and

Alex Ferrari 45:08
Dance and make us or you won't get our love and right. We all know where that went.

Kyle Cease 45:13
Yeah, right. It's no, there's, I think that it's really interesting because as I do this work, you know, I meditate all that sounds like we're really in a similar boat. It's so fun to be talking to you and learning more your story as we go. And, you know, what, a way that I kind of perceive it as is, I think I've said in other interviews before is that imagine if you and I went to another planet, and we're raised by 220 foot tall aliens, have you heard this before? Have you imagine where so you go, you and I go to another planet, we're each separately raised by 220 foot tall aliens, and we don't know how they, we don't know how to stay safe. We just know that one comes home drunk, and he's really loud. So we start going, Okay, I need to be quiet with that one. Because I'll get hurt otherwise. And let's say the other one really loves it if you tap dance. So every time you tap dance that one gives you love and shows you to the other aliens, you start to, you start to wire yourself, okay? Stay quiet with this one, and then tap dance with this one. And I get love. And let's say you're raised by them for 20 years, and you're worried that you're with them for 20 years doing this thing. Now your body's fully conditioned, I am a good tap dancer, I'm good at being quiet around a loud person, right? Then you go out to the rest of the aliens, and they all got their own patterns. And they're like, I don't give a shit about tap dancing, and why are you quiet? And you start to realize, I created a prison of a false meme and cut myself off from my soul. Me, right? So imagine now humanity through our conditioning is in a prison. Imagine people that get success too quickly are in a prison that's got gold and candy being thrown into it. And imagine 2020 2021 is overall a lot of people's prisons are on fire. And there's a lot of people that you were saying there could be actors watching this or you're saying actors have decided there's some that are like they're still their circumstances and everything. And and one thing I'll offer is they won't quite understand this now thing we're talking about until life forces it on them by kicking their ass, I've noticed that it's very hard to will your way into it fully. If it's not your it's not your like, still, they might hear us and go, that's great, but I'm gonna go get the movie. Like, that's great, but I'm gonna go and it's not until life just cuts it off from you. And makes things really almost impossible to deal with that it forces you out of your prison. And your prison if you were in it for 20 30 years is home, and you're actually free, but you were more used to being in your prison. Luckily, many of us have had our prisons just crapped in lately. And so we're leaving it. So there's some prisons that are on fire. And there are some that are just more and more gold, and candy and sex and everything being put in there. Right. And so for people watching this, if you're it's the weird thing is the good news. Bizarrely good news is if you don't get what we're talking about one to your life in certain areas. And this is actually a good thing will in some ways fall apart. And if you have the awareness to know that that's also fine. See, a lot of people have their life falling apart. But they think that's bad, because they think they're that story. But if you start to get here, then you cry out the EU that thinks you needed that thing. So the great news is your the the seemingly things that are happening now that are undoing us from our comfort. If you start to get here and you forgive and you let go and you apologize, and you look at yourself and you get humble and you listen more to the now than your agenda, you're gonna be free. And if you're like, No, I'm gonna get that part no matter what, or I'm going to get that relationship no matter what, that's the only answer to my life. Life is going to kick your ass more now life is kicking our ass of if we're not listening to the now and letting go of this egoic identity that we decided of what our future was going to be.

Alex Ferrari 49:10
Well, let me ask you this. Because as as you know, people going after goals they say in life, I want to be an astronaut. I want to be a football star. I want to be a comic. I wanna be a director, whatever, might be a writer. There's a drive that you need. And a certain amount of ego Yeah, that you need to be able to, to even attempt to achieve these goals. Yes. How can you how can you rectify the conversation we're having with the want or the need to follow something that's internal inside of you. Maybe it is the story. Maybe it's not the story. Obviously, you're very good as a comic. You're you were very you get a lot of success in it, though. It wasn't the ultimate thing you did. I've been I was working filmmaker for almost 30 years. And, but yet, I'm podcasting most of my days today, because I'm more enjoyment this so we both have kind of similar paths different in obvious ways but, but some kind of tones of the same. So how do you kind of talk to somebody go, Hey, follow that dream, but you're not your dream, right? Well, you know what I mean?

Kyle Cease 50:22
I guess I would just say where I am. And I absolutely encourage everyone to follow what their truest thing is. I guess for me, I'm just gonna say me, I've noticed more and more that life has more for me than my my plans. And, like it, it has more for me than my dream. And I noticed that my dream career happened at a different level of consciousness. My dream career was when I truly believed that was the highest I knew and didn't see that there were elements of control or fear that were actually driving that career. So I'm absolutely a fan of people following what their highest consciousness is. One of the things I've noticed in the last couple of years is a lot of clients that have come to me are people who had this level of self help in them. They were scared of the old kind of 2000 teaching of I'm scared that I'll die with my music. and you in Me, you know that there was a Wayne Dyer, quote, don't that was a very needed quote for 2020. I'm sorry, for 2000. That was a level of consciousness that was permission to get your gift out. Right? I personally feel like 2022 is more, at least for me. And it seems like a lot of people more about hearing, then getting it out. Right, like, like, there's a level where this voice is coming out. But I also noticed that, you know, I'm all about free speech, of course. But I noticed that we're now a collection of egos just yelling at each other. We're just politically opposites that are just mad at each other. And I'm also about on an even higher level freedom to hear, because I think that a lot of our collective egos are just screaming, and it's not getting anywhere. And there's a higher us that's trying to come through. So more and more, for me at least. And this might be permission for some people who feel for the people who keep going, going after their dream and then stopping and going, Why am I starting a project? No, actually, it's not it, you might have access to consciousness that might be higher than that, I have to follow my dream thing, that's actually just permission for you to listen to what it wants for you. Because maybe it wants to do something through you. What if there's a higher frequency than your dream that's trying to birth through you maybe, maybe we just listen to what's here. And, and, and follow in the now just what feels higher, minute by minute versus, you know, mapping out a six month plan towards your dream career. If that's truly your highest, then do that. But imagine that there's a consciousness now that goes, I kind of want the dreamer, for some people doesn't have to be you. But it could be there could be a consciousness in the body. That goes, I'm ready for the dreamer in you, that maybe was also dreaming to escape a painful childhood, that maybe was dreaming, to escape your own judgments of yourself to die, and that I want to work through you. And that that there might be there might I mean, at one point, I'm at the height of my comedy career and just let go of it. And then all of a sudden, evolving out loud this this event that this creation that came through me this combination of comedy meets transformation was bigger than what I could see I had to follow a Lego of this not see why the hell I was doing it. And then I started getting little evidence of more fulfilling happening, but I had to follow the now more than an agenda I couldn't, if you told me leave stand up, because you're gonna create this thing for the next 20 years. It called evolving out loud or whatever, I'd be like, I'd need to know what that looks like or whatever. Instead, it was like, trust me, don't know why follow the feeling, have no idea what the hell's going on, cry out the party that needed certainty in the first place, because I have higher and I started realizing with a lot of different clients that had this fear that they're gonna die with their music in them. They are trying to create out of a fear of wasting their life. And the belief you can waste your life is now I think, a thing that needs to be purged, because your life includes things that are beyond your agenda. And maybe you were here to just be and maybe you were here to go through dark times. And maybe you were here to not know for a while. And maybe in those moments, the universe is taking you to a higher thing than your agenda. So, so at one level, if you feel like you have this dream, and you know that's it. I am such a fan of you following that. But I'm also here for the people who keep trying to figure out what their dream is, or and or having this dream but then it keeps collapsing. It might be that you're Your consciousness is too high for you to follow through in the achievement of that thing that you think will make you something because you're connected to something that knows you're already something, and it's got better for you. And it needs you to just let go of the attachment to anyway, just follow the now follow what your truest thing is, there's a teaching every second happening inside of you. So there's a consciousness birthing, that's the universe's dream through you that's bigger than you could ever see. And that's where life starts to be breakthroughs and releasing and crying and holy shit all the time.

Alex Ferrari 55:34
I can't, I can't agree with you more, because I do absolutely believe that life has much the universe is going to do things, it's going to create things in your life that you truly have no understanding of, I'm an example of that. You're an example of that, yes, with this, this idea of following your dream, if you wouldn't have been a comic, you wouldn't have built up the tool sets that you would have need and the experience that you needed to overcome in order to do the work that you're doing. fair statement.

Kyle Cease 56:05
Potentially, I don't I don't know that that's for sure.

Alex Ferrari 56:09
Nothing's for sure. But what I mean, like the way they look, but the way the Blueprint was laid out

Kyle Cease 56:13
How we see it, yes, that sounds that would make sense. And I definitely would say without being a stand up comic, I wouldn't have developed the skills to be able to communicate this Well, I wouldn't have been able to just, you know, default to delivering stand up off the cuff through my teaching sometimes, you know, right, right. Like, there's definitely skills and hours on stage that have accumulated Absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 56:34
And then but the breakdown that you went through, because of your standup, which is such an odd thing, because the skill, the one of the biggest tools in your toolbox is comedy. But you're now using it differently. So that skill, that whole mission of the thing that you were doing had to be broken down in this really dramatic way, as you told at the beginning of the of our conversation. And that's the thing that kind of pushed you towards the Tony Robbins, yes. And push it and then it made you start to change. So it was all if you look back, it seems like a master plan that nobody had any blueprint of except maybe someone the universe, if you will, same thing happened to me the exact same process. My dream is to become a victim to become a you know, big director, all this stuff. But the skills that I've picked up along the way, about communication, about how to tell a story about all this, all those little tools have made me the kind of communicator that I am today. So even all the pain and and to be fair, without the pain of my events with the mobster, I wouldn't have made such an effort to try to save other people the pain of this industry. That's what my first podcast is all about. It's about helping filmmakers and screenwriters avoid pitfalls and to protect themselves to understand what they're getting into. If I wouldn't have gone through that massive amount of pain, and then in the next 15 years of ups and downs, I wouldn't have felt the need to start that which then has turned into all the other things that I'm doing now in this space. So again, yes, we needed that initial dream to get yes rolling, but it's going to turn into something else. And yes, there are those people who I'm going to be an actor and you win an Oscar and then you're Meryl Streep, like there are those people?

Kyle Cease 58:27
Well, and that's that's so big, because I'm not I'm absolutely not saying following your dream as a problem or anything great height of saying, You know what I mean? Yes. And I'm more saying like, yeah, those things that I did were the highest I knew at the end you right? And so as following us following the highest we know like everyone's at a different consciousness, right. Like, for instance, there's some people if you're having a problem with with something and you want to protest, and you've been a victim, your whole life, like standing up and going to a Capitol with your signs is absolutely essential and consciousness for you, where you went from a victim to an achiever. So the me at 12 that started becoming a stand up comic was absolutely the highest I knew. And my journey was perfect, right? But then there's some people who've been protesting those things forever. That might be like, there's something in me that feels like I could contribute more to this cause in a different way. And then you start to go okay, well, there's if there's 5000 people protesting at the Capitol because of something they don't want. What if that was 5000? Yoga Nando's? What if they were bringing 5000 Gandhi's out? I'm not even talking about Gandhi followers. I'm talking about God, what if there was 5000 Gandhi's What if there were 5000 Martin Luther King's right. We're talking that could be birthing. Right. And so you start to realize for some people, me at a loving frequency if you had a if you had a million Mr. Rogers on the planet, healing all the murders of The planet by being an unconditional space of love for them, you start to realize that it actually is an ascension at one point to go to an even higher frequency, right? So, I guess for me, I've done so much meditation in connection that I'm finding that there's no achievement, even getting in the now making now a future concept that's better than the now. Right? Like right now, like I am just at a place where I'm really experiencing the truth of in this moment, even if you have all these patterns that exist and all these things that you think you need to overcome. In this moment, you are free. And the ego goes, it's when I understand what's wrong with me that I'll be free. And I'm like, No, that actually keeps you in prison. Right? For some people, and some people that would be ascension, does this make sense? Makes perfect sense. And so, so to understand were completely free, then we undo even the concept of the idea that you could waste your life, or a life is better lived? Had you made 100 billion books sold? Right? Like, there's a great line in Law of One that says if you if you serve one, you serve all. So I find that me doing a one on one with someone or even me choosing my highest for myself, is a better service to humanity, than if I have a book go New York Times bestseller again. Right? Like it's not based on how many numbers you get. It's based on the frequency you're emitting. Right. And so for some people, they thought the highest frequency would be to achieve their dream, but they might be connected to a frequency that's even past that and goes, nope, forgive your dream. And be here, I got a better dream for you. Right?

Alex Ferrari 1:01:50
That's, I mean, it's absolutely beautiful. One thing I wanted to ask you, fear is something that's so prevalent in our, our psyche, as a society as a species. And we do have negative bias, you know, we are built to look at the negative things in life because it's, it's it's a survival mechanism. And I think I saw somewhere I think in Harvard, or Yale, they did it, they did a study where it's like, for every nine negative things, you see one positive comes through, things like that so heavily that heavily may have a negative bias. So fear is something that's always looking at the worst in the situation as a survival mechanism. How can we overcome these kinds of fears that prevent us from getting to, to higher stages of consciousness, to higher achievements, in our in our life, in our career, in our dreams, in our relationships, and break through those fears that are basically built within us they're built? There's no one else that's creating them. But yes, unless there's a tiger in the room, and then that's a safe that kind of fear.

Kyle Cease 1:02:53
Well, that's what it's for is if there's a tiger in the room, right? Right. It's literally for if there's a gun man in your house, and the guns aimed at your head, or the house is on fire, but we use it for everything right? In my eyes, fear is in invest is an opportunity to go to a deep investigation, right? All fear in my eyes, in my eyes, comes from other than true survival. Like I need this to run up a tree if there's a tiger or whatever. Sure. Like. But we all are weirdly scared of different things. Right? What we would all have the exact same opinion on the same president, if if it was really outside of us, right? Like all of us would believe 100%, these Congress, people are bad. These ones are there, we're triggered, because of something that's inside. So you start to realize you're you're not scared of things outside of you, unless it's literal fight or flight, you're actually scared of stuff that's inside of you. Right? And so you use the outside to trigger something that's inside, right, that hasn't been seen. And what I love to do is I know I have enough knowing that whatever the fear is, if it's not literal fight or flight, that I get to do more investigating, and I kind of get excited because I'm like, I've done all the cool things with this stuff still in here. What am I like when this is gone? Right. So when I noticed that I'm worried about something I'm worried whatever they'll say something about, they'll attack me that, that I that it won't be successful that someone will hurt me that I that I'll fail, whatever it is, oh, there's an investigation here. So I start with the first thing like whatever the thing is, you're allowed to they're allowed to whatever it is, they're allowed to talk crap about, you're allowed to be criticized, you're allowed to whatever the fear is, like, you're allowed to fail at that audition. You're allowed to have people judge you you're allowed to be unseen by your dad. Right? So that's the first thing because it only wants to know that you are with it, a DAC Usually, you're creating this middleman that needs to happen, right? Like, imagine if your literal children like my five year old daughter, if she came in and said, I feel like no one loves me. Imagine if I how weird it would be if I was just like, well, let's put some makeup on and run over to the neighbor's house and make you tap dance in front of them. And maybe they'll like you. Don't be nuts.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:21
But that does happen, by the way.

Kyle Cease 1:05:23
Yeah, right. Sure somebody does happen with other parents, right? But we have the least awareness to go versus just giving her a hug and going, you're allowed you can totally feel that way here. That's what she needs to know. Now, we would never do that with our kids. But we sure do that with our own inner children. Absolutely. I feel unloved. Okay, I'm gonna make the video bigger. I need to get more views I'll be loved when it hits a billion people whatever.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:48
More views, I need more downloads. I need more likes. Right? Let's everybody's looking how many likes because my whole identity is attached to lights or grades or downloads.

Kyle Cease 1:05:59
Now wouldn't that be weird? If Vivi, my daughter said I don't feel like I'm I'm liked. And I'm like, well, here's how we get likes. Like I want you to watch the scores your watch this course read this book. Yeah, I need you to take this marketing class. And I'm gonna say branding all day.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:15
Red brand building with me. We need to start brand building lead Elmo alone. We're gonna brand build today. Hey, my brand.

Kyle Cease 1:06:23
Hey, guys, my daughter's feel love. So we're going to build her brand. That's what we are doing. Do you know how many clients I have to undo marketing courses from? They have what their soul wants to do. And then they have all this like, yep, I'd love to do that. But I was told I have to post twice a day on Instagram. And I'm just like, by someone else who did a thing. Like when people teach you how to do what they did in a different time that was successful for them. That'd be like taking a songwriting class and Michael Jackson being like, right, Billie Jean. That's what I did. It was a hit. You're like, Oh, I get the story. You already did that.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:00
I was like I was at Comic Con years ago. And Quentin Tarantino was on stage. And some kid asked him like, what advice do you have for filmmakers trying to break into the business? And Quentin Tarantino stood up and said, Write Reservoir Dogs? That's all I know. He literally said write for dogs at a house yet. It was a huge hit. Right? Reservoir Dogs. That's what I did. I don't know what to tell you. That's how I broke into the race. I can't tell you how to break into the business because everyone's way is different. But it was just so beautifully presented by Reservoir Dogs.

Kyle Cease 1:07:35
That's a great well, and you know, what's amazing is what that also brings up is, we don't understand that the factor of what also makes something is the consciousness it's in, in other words, that I watched a special recently on Netflix about Woodstock. 99 Oh, god, yes, I saw it. Oh, did you see it? Oh my god, what were they trying to do, they were trying to bring the same feelings back that they created on a conscious shifting hippie movement in 1969. But with Limp Biscuit, biscuit in a time where that breakthrough isn't what the universe wanted, the universe isn't trying to break, like 69 They're getting out of the Vietnam War and you're you're trying to bring that is that was a true conscious shift. But the factor also was the time it was in. So when we do this all the time when we say as a person, I want to feel how I felt five years ago when I was in that relationship. I want to feel like I felt 10 years ago when I was on top of the moon when I was doing this thing. Don't try to be what you were in the past don't try to be what anyone else was in the past because there's a new you trying to come through. So we keep trying to orchestrate movements that worked 80 years ago, and like the the Martin Luther King march for instance, might not work the same way now because the consciousness is different. And there might be an inner shift that we're trying to have that we've never seen. But that sounds to me like what the universe is trying to do. That's so cutting edge but it's not familiar to us right? So so that's exactly Quentin Tarantino is answers hilarious because like of course if you rewrote Reservoir Dogs and put it out now it wouldn't work. Woodstock 99 You could feel I remember when it was coming out I was like that's not gonna work that doesn't feel agree and it was even created by the same dude that did Woodstock and it came out and it was people lighting themselves on fire and sliding around and shit mud and and it was robbing each other and dying. Like it was just like this nightmare. And and this dark way overheated terrible event that you have Rage Against the Machine and Limp Biscuit screaming Don't you want to hit something breaks. Woodstock guy is talking like this is a love thing. And like you know, there's you got to hear what the consciousness is of the time and that one To the consciousness of today. Now, what did you do yesterday that worked? What is trying to come through you right now? Right? So even if so when you get a marketing class, it's like, this is the strategy I used in 2008 to whatever. That doesn't mean you should. Right.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:15
I mean, and so many times that I tell I tell the filmmakers that I counsel and even on my shows, I tell them because a lot of them still think it's the 90s and that the film movements and making independent movies is that time it is not you are not Kevin Smith. You're not Spike Lee, you're not Richard Linklater, that was that time, just like you're not Steven Spielberg in the 70s. You're not Coppola in the 70s. You're not Millia, sir, or George Lucas. And like that was that time, just like you're not a Hitchcock in the 20s. Like, it's a different

Kyle Cease 1:10:50
Dude, you're not even you in the 2000s. You know what I'm saying? Like,

Alex Ferrari 1:10:55
You have to find out, which brings me to the next thing is authenticity. And I always tell people, if you want to succeed at anything in this life, you need to find that sauce, I call it the secret sauce inside of you the thing that nobody else has that authenticity. And that is that's what people are attracted to. Reasons why my podcast do well is because I am 100% authentic to who I am, and I'm truly being authentic. I'm not like, I'm gonna make a money grab and make it a podcast. Like that's not about Woodstock. 99 podcasts are hot. Let's try to do something cool. No, I'm actually authentically trying to help trying to be curious with my, with my guests to have conversations that are deep and meaningful for the audience listening, but that's an authenticity. And every single person in history, who has ever been successful, was authentic to their themselves, to their soul to their inner secret sauce. So we use actors you we can use writers we can use, you know, Edgar Allan Poe was Edgar Allan Poe, Dickens was Dickens. Shakespeare was Shakespeare, these people had a connection to who they were and weren't afraid this is the key, weren't afraid to show it to the world, warts and all. And that's what people are attracted to. I think that's one of the reasons you're so successful, because you are completely 100% authentic. And you also make people laugh, which is also helpful.

Kyle Cease 1:12:21
Well, you know, here's an irony to is, the more you find that authentic thing that's trying to come through you, the less it's even scary to do it, it like takes you to a level where it's not, I gotta get this out. It's like, just like, Oh, I'm in a world where that's me. And it's not like this overcoming feeling that you have when you're not authentic, where it's like, you know, you know, like, like you actually kind of when you find that real you you actually access some other invincibility energy that makes it not even a big deal to put it out. You know, it's,

Alex Ferrari 1:12:55
But that first part is the first time Yeah, the first time is really hard, but it's much harder to keep a mask on. Yes, it's much harder to be someone else. Always what people are always trying to do, they put a mask on, they try to pretend they try to, they put clothes on they act they have to like get you know, certain things have to wear, wear certain clothes, get in certain cards. This is all part of the masking. And that's hard, man. I did it when I was in high school. I remember, I did it through a lot of parts of my life that I tried to be someone I wasn't. And then the moment I decided to be myself so much easier. It's like the heavy lifting is off. Like you could take the jacket off. You could take the mask off and just be you. And if any bullets start coming towards you because of like people not liking who you are, you're just like Bing bing, bing just bounce off of you because you're like, if you don't like me, man, that's your problem. That's not mine. And that's what people are attracted to.

Kyle Cease 1:13:49
We do get this choice. I think Jim Carrey said something similar to this but we get this choice between being at one point I think Jim Carrey said this, there's a choice we get at one point where I'm either going to be what I truly am and risk losing everyone and everything in my life, even though I probably won't, but you can you're willing to lose it all for for whatever. Like my highest intention is to learn what I truly am and I'll let go of everything for it. Right that's that's where all your power is. Or you'll give up what you truly are and be what you think that people you know, want to see and you'll go to the grave with people never knowing who you truly were. And I you know I think every i He said that there's one moment where that happens. I think that choice happens every day. I think that it's like continually either going up to more you and there's a new chapter to each day that you've never seen that takes you even higher or you know sell out a little bit and be what you what you think people want and then learn from that lesson and you can go up right now I'm kind of like go up and then oh, I didn't realize I was doing Not I sold out oh shit no, I'm not going you know and you just keep finding this authentic you through doing that work right so yeah, there's a there's an audience for everyone watching there's an insane you that's birthing that's more powerful than anyone you've ever idolized than anything you've ever seen. And it's trying to come through you. And I think it doesn't it's not even just a new you is trying to birth through you I think a new planet is trying to birth through you. I think the more you're in the now that you'll notice that I've had so many experiences I'm sure you have to where the world weirdly mirrors what I just did. Like if you ever forgiven someone they called you have you ever, like just let go of something? And then like you've noticed that the thing you were holding on to isn't as stringently holding on to you. Like you go to a different frequency. And you almost wonder if this is a virtual reality that shows you what you just healed inside is being mirrored on the outside. I've seen that so many times with clients, when they let go if they finally let go of the thing where that a frequency where it doesn't matter. All the sudden it heals itself on the external too. And so I think a new world is trying to birth through you. Not just new you,

Alex Ferrari 1:16:09
Kyle, I could keep talking to you for hours. I really fun. It's so much fun to listen, you're definitely coming back on the show. We got to keep it we got I mean, I literally have 30 questions I never even talked to you

Kyle Cease 1:16:22
Sure I'm here anytime, brother.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:24
It is such a pleasure. Can you tell everybody where where they can find you what kind of where they can find out the work. You're doing books and courses and one on ones all that kind of stuff?

Kyle Cease 1:16:33
Yes, so my I get giddy talking about it. Because it's so amazing. We created a membership site called the absolutely everything pass. It's got 1000s of people on it now creating an amazing community. It has probably about 1000 hours of backlogged content plus I do a live event every Sunday. Other teammates do a live event Monday and Tuesday called it's totally possible, where they literally riff all the things that are totally possible and create this different frequency. Tuesday mornings, I have different guest speakers come in and do interviews with them. Wednesday night, I do a q&a. And now I have a new series called Hot Seat on it where you can watch me work within the next few months, I'm working with people, I'm going to do 100 hot seats, you're gonna watch me take a person around an hour, and break down all of the lives that are in their body and then see what comes through. And you can see on YouTube, tons of videos of me doing work with people where I shift their reality. And it's my favorite thing. And it's something that is changing people's lives pays for itself over and over and over. It's crazy affordable. And a lot of our money goes to different charities, we just recently announced that we're doing an event in March that that event will take place in Sedona. And it's the event is is all the money of this two day live event is going to Operation Underground Railroad who's the group that is stopping child trafficking. And we announced it about five weeks ago, maybe and we've brought in $226,000 for them so far. That's amazing. And they're just telling us stories of what that money has rescued and arrested. And that it's just like bringing darkness to the light everywhere. So we have a two day event in Sedona that's 80% sold out and it's six months away. And it's called freeing all children inside and out. And the purpose of the event is to free your inner children that's got its own Warden that says you can't or you have to do what everyone else says. And then also literally freeing children that are being trafficked. And this group operation Underground Railroad is profound. We just had the founder Tim Ballard on and it was one of the most amazing interviews ever. And all of this is on the absolutely everything pass. It's $79 a month, they can cancel anytime I promise you. It will pay for itself over and over all of my live stand up events where I do talks to day events, everything that shifted people, they're all in there. If you watch that and don't completely shift your career, your income your story, like then you're missing out because it's crazy. So it's called the absolutely everything passed. They can get it on absolutely everything.tv They can get I have two books. My favorite one by far as the illusion of money grants the second one yeah, thank you, brother. Good man. That and God we have 500 videos on YouTube, you know, and we got I'm here.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:26
Listen, brother, is there a message you would like to leave us with?

Kyle Cease 1:19:30
Just you're totally free. You are free right now. Don't try to understand it. Don't try to prove it to yourself. Just find the freedom in your breath right now. Just connect to your just the air going in, you're free. You will discover a forgiveness you will discover a release. You do not even need to do the work to get to the freedom. Just start here at the freedom and see what happens as a byproduct of your freedom versus your when I get this I'll be free. Screw that. You're free. Let's See what happens from that?

Alex Ferrari 1:20:01
Brother. It has been a pleasure honor talking to you, man. And I hope this conversation helps a lot of people out there. So thank you. Thank you again for all the work you're doing my friend,

Kyle Cease 1:20:10
Honored to be with you, man. I can feel your soul. You're a good guy and it's so great to talk to you today.

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IFH 629: Watch This to Survive on a Film Set with Christine Chen

Christine Chen is an Academy qualified film producer, director and co-author of Get Reelisms. She fell in love with capturing images and telling stories through film the first time she got her hands on an early addition VHS camcorder in 1993. Christine’s love of film turned into a life-long passion for writing and directing.

Christine has a B.A. from Rice University as well as a MBA from the University of Texas McCombs. Christine‘s films have been showcased at festivals such as Hollyshorts, New Orleans Film Festival, and Fantasia Film Festival. Christine’s recent feature, Erzulie had a limited theatrical run in May 2022 and is now available on VOD starting June 14, 2022 through Kamikaze Dogfight Films and Gravitas Ventures.

Enjoy my conversation with Christine Chen.

Christine Chen 0:00
There's just a specific way that you answer respond. And it's very military honestly, I've heard it is. It's, it's, I believe, that's where it really came from. But a lot of it is the way I can describe it is like if you were blind, like how would you know somebody heard your message, understood your message and is working on your message, right? Because, and you're delivering this to, you know, however big your crew is,

Alex Ferrari 0:34
This episode is brought to you by the Best Selling Book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com I'd like to welcome to the show Christine Chen. How you doing Christine?

Christine Chen 0:48
I'm good. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Alex Ferrari 0:52
Thank you so much for coming on the show. Uh, you know, we've I've done 600 Plus episodes right now at this point this as of this recording, and I've never done a kind of onset Survival Guide for not only pas but specifically for pas and interns and unset interns, but also for crew members and new crew members in different departments that just don't understand the, the carny language, there is a film set. So you guys decided to write a book called Get. Which, by the way, it is as simple beautifully. You know, it's not like it's as you can if you guys can see, it's all pretty pictures and everything. So it's real. Like it's to the point and it's, it's a book that I wish I would have had when I started out. I'm sure you feel

Christine Chen 1:42
That's why we created it. Yeah, I'm glad you pointed that out. That's exactly why we created it. I so I got started in the industry in like 2000. Dude, 2000. And Jesus 1514 around then? Sure. And yeah, I remember going on my first set, and somebody asked me for a stinger. And I had no clue what that was no clue. And nobody tells you this, you just get thrown into the wolves. And the film says super high pace. And you're already stressed out that you want to make a good impression because he finally got onto a film set. And it's almost like get a car. I'm like, I don't know what the eff that is. And so the the only option at that point is to hopefully snag the crew member that has the time and patience to explain it to you. But that you that you have the fear of sounding, just showing that you don't know what you're doing. I mean, not that, you know, you going around, say is not enough to show that you don't know what you're doing. But like to just add insult to that to be that obvious that you don't even know how people talk on set is even worse. So yeah,

Alex Ferrari 2:57
Yeah. We will know, if you don't if you're new on set within three to four minutes of just seeing the winning actually, if they're like, Wow, this is cool. They're brand new, they're brand spanking new. They feel sparkles in their eyes, brand spanking new. And then you've got the grizzled grip that just walks by has been doing it for 25 years. And then like, there you go, that's that. He doesn't care about any movie stars. Anything. He's like, I'm here for a job. You want to push the dollar push the dolly. That's as simple as that. But no, when I first got started out, I was thrown into the woods and I was going to technical film school that actually taught you some of these things. So I went to full sail in Orlando. Where is it very technical film school, at least it was when I was there. And I knew what a stinger was. But there's still this corny language of you know, an apple box and, and you know, a honey wagon and crafty and all of these things that you just don't know you and I take it for granted because we've been on set up a ton of times over the years. But when you're first on set, you're you're nervous as hell. And the thing is anyone listening who gets on set for the first time, they just have to understand that most people, most people on the crew, depending on who you get on and what type of day you get. Understand that you know nothing. And if you're a PA, it's expected you know nothing unless you're like, the 45 year old PA. That's another conversation. Yes. So, because I've met those guys, I'm like, Yeah, me too. Have you ever thought of going into a department? No. Solid. I'm like, Alright, brother, you do you? So how did you so let me ask you the first question, why did you want to get into this insanity? This corny world that is the film business.

Christine Chen 4:42
You know, I when I wake up at like 4am to get on set. I asked myself that every time

Alex Ferrari 4:49
Is this? Why am I doing this?

Christine Chen 4:51
Why? Why did we do this to ourselves? Or I'm on the you know, the fifth overnight. I'm like, why am I doing this again? Got it. And then I, you know, you get through it. And then the next day you wake up and let's say you're, you're off, you're like, Wait, why am I not on set? You know? And so I, it's weird, it's very strange thing and I tell new filmmakers this all the time, you'll know if you belong or you don't, you know, you'll go on your complaint you'll get off me maybe not one day, maybe you give me like two or three days and you if you feel the itch, then you just know, I was in documentary filmmaking actually, before I went on set, I had been a one man band for a while. In undergrad, you have to be a well rounded person. So they say, you know, you have to do a credit and an art class. And so I fell into filmmaking. At that point, I chose the intro to documentary filmmaking course, Rice University, and loved it. I loved the editing part of the telling the story part, everything. And that was I mean to the that was all I knew. And I thought, okay, cool. That was fun hobby. You know, it's, and I'll never deal with filmmaking again. And I, but I should have known that things were going to change after that. Because the proportion of time that I spent on that class, the intro to class was probably like, 70% of my time. And then like the rest of my 10 classes was like the last 10% It'd be add, like partying and all the other stuff to it. And so, but my culture, I'm a first generation Taiwanese American, you don't pursue stuff like filmmaking or art of any sort. You're a doctor and engineer something practical, you know, that will give you a steady nine to five job. And it took me doing one of those jobs, I was a IT consultant after I graduated, that I realized I didn't want to do that. And I was searching for myself as to what I was going to do. And for some reason, landed on being a lawyer. And so you have to take the LSAT, it's to be able to qualify. And to do that there's prep courses and stuff. And I'm terrible at taking tests. So I took one of those courses. And you know, the universe has a way of laughing at you, my LSAT, teacher was a filmmaker. And he was it was in Houston at that time. And he I guess, had a group that was doing the 48 Hour Film Festival thing. He was like, Hey, you want to be a PA? No clue what that was? Because there's aren't pas and intro to documentary film at all. You are a one person you do everything yourself. So Mike Yeah, sure. No clue show up. And they get now I know what I was actually doing. I was the second AC, but it was PA, but they gave me a slate and I was the happiest person ever. I was like, Oh my God, I'm such an important job of using a slate writing around this thing that people wanted to take pictures with, you know, and, and I just, it clicked it just I don't know what happened. They say there's divine intervention. Some people go on to have a light bulb moment. And I definitely would say I had a light bulb moment. I just felt like I belonged and that this crazy world was something that I really just loved. And it really just took that one set. I just, I just remember being fascinated with everyone's job, which is not common for me usually, like, you know, my dad's engineering I asked him one sentence, they told me like five sentences and I like to now after two words, you know, but on on this film set, every single job was fascinating to me. You know, I just I'd never seen a follow focus before I just, you know, stared at that for a very long time. And then, you know, grab water for like, grip, and it was like watching them build stuff and never seen that before and looking at the makeup, you know, and just everything was cool. Now I lucked out because the set that I got on, they actually knew what they were doing. I could have been on a shit show, but it was it was not and I forgot. I'm on a lot of customers a camera too late.

Alex Ferrari 9:25
Go ahead. Okay. I mean, we're talking. We're talking about sets here. No one ever curses on a set. So as much cursing as you do on set or hurt here on set, that's as much as you could do here. Okay, that's a very bad okay. Yeah, so So but let me I mean, you know what, when I was on the set for the first time, too, it is very intoxicating. It's an intoxicating environment if you're in a good set, I mean, I've been on both I've been on bad sets. Oh, yeah. Egos going out of crazy and then this thing's just like you said a should show like, they just don't know what they're doing. They can't make their day. You know, it just, they're just a bunch of monkeys running around, you know, with a camera trying to do something. So I've been on those sets. And then, and then when you walk on a professional set working on a studio project or network project, and you just see these grizzled veterans who worked like a well oiled machine, and what's fascinating is that a lot of times you'll go on the first day, and everyone's on there for the first day. And yeah, there might be a few people who know each other. But generally speaking, everyone's new on that on that set to each other. And they still run like a well oiled machine because they all understand their part in the machine. And it only only problems I ever see on set is when people overstep their, their lane, they want to do this or the DP wants to be the director, the director wants to be the lighting guy

Christine Chen 10:53
Department.

Alex Ferrari 10:53
Yeah, exactly. Or the or did like it's all about the dress. No, it's not. It's all about the it's all about the curtains in the back. No, it's not, dude. We need five hours for the for the curtains, no, no. hours for the curtains, you got five minutes. So let's move along. So you've been on set so many times, and obviously continues to work on sets. What is the biggest, like newbie mistake, you see that that pas make on day one or or onset interns to this? This kind of goes for both?

Christine Chen 11:27
Sure, I think for me is people go in feeling entitled. And when I say entitled, it means like, I think people have a from the from the out the outside world. You see the red carpets, you see the you know, Entertainment Tonight, and you see the people dressed up. And I think people going in and thinking like, oh, because I'm a director, you know, or an aspiring director, I'm going to be able to jump, you know, jump positions and just start letting my opinion matters, you know, and sure, to a certain extent, but like, I think people forgetting that all the people that are on set started off and work their way up to where they are, and earned the right to be there. And I and I think newbie mistake is thinking that things are below them. Like, oh, I don't need to get water for people or take the trash. It's like, that's labor that's below me. You know, and, and I think no matter how veteran you are on set, there's you will realize, I feel like it's if you are a good crew member, you will always there will never be a job that is below you. At any point in your career, you know, because you understand the value that each position each job entails and how that affects the overall success of the film. And that's the biggest thing I see for new starry eyed pas is that they come in thinking, Oh, I went to college, and I shouldn't need to go run errands and pick up dog poop and all this other, which that happens. And that's the problem. And the thing is that we veterans can smell that and see that instantly. You know? Yeah, I mean, like we you said within today, it's so funny now being on the other side. When you're brand new, you're like, Oh, nobody can tell I'm brand new, I could just like pretend that no, we can tell within like, like you said two to three minutes. Now, we can also tell within two to three minutes if you're good or not. And it's attitude. It doesn't have to do with skill. Because getting water is not a skill. I mean, it's not like a thing that you have to learn. Everybody can do it, but there's like an attitude that comes with it for people who are good and who are not. And you can pick it out like within, you know, you probably say well, within five minutes. I'm like, Alright, I can count on these four pas out of these 20 You know, like it's like, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 14:15
Right, because there's gonna be the four pas who are just hustling left at anytime you turn around, they're there. Waiting, waiting.

Christine Chen 14:24
What can I do? Do you mean anything?

Alex Ferrari 14:27
Yeah. And then the other ones are sitting around, you know, back I found? Yeah, Gabby found her sitting around crafty. Talking about how the director is doing the job wrong. And he they can do better.

Christine Chen 14:37
Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 14:39
I've seen it so often. And it's so that's why I love you know, some of these some of these older grizzy grizzled veterans, the DPS the, you know, the, the key grips, yeah, those departments. You know, I just throw them to the wolves you know if I see that on set I'll be like, Hey, that guy, go talk to that guy, do good. Go do your thing, go do your thing, and then just start and they just start because it's God, it's, it's such a weird thing on set culture because it is, it is a carny world. And I actually made a movie about carne. So I have a really good understanding of the carny world and Carnegie's and what they do and how they treat each other. And it's the secret language that you talk, you know, that we could talk to each other. And they'll put you through the grinder until you prove yourself. Yeah, you belong there. Respect. Yeah. And they're going to beat you up. And in a, in a almost, almost rite of passage kind of way, not in a practical way. Not in a hopefully not in a derogatory way, though, I find I've had that happen to me on set as well, things sets have changed a little bit, hopefully, sure, since my day, but it's because it's so tough. Being on set. I mean, I mean, when I worked on set, as a PA, I figured out really quickly, probably after a year of interning and being on stages, and, you know, I went I was working at Universal Studios, I was working at Disney behind the scenes and productions and things like that. And like you said, when I wake up at three o'clock in the morning, I'm going out there somewhere sitting in the mud, and while it's raining, while I'm trying to wave people into where they're parking, and I'm like, this sucks. Yeah. I don't I you know what, I don't think this is what I want to do. I want to be on set, but this is not what I wanted. So I learned I just jumped from that to post real quick and, oh, no air conditioning, and carpal tunnel. I'll deal with that. And I jumped for that. And then when I started to become a director, and then started, you know, as as a post guy started to go on set, and then started to be directing and doing commercials and things like that. It seemed like okay, this is where I want to be. But things that I learned along the way was that, at a certain point in my career, I felt the ego felt that it was above doing some menial stuff. And the crew picks it up. As the director of the coop, the crew picks it up. So now anytime I'm ever on set, and for the last 10, probably 10 plus years, I'm picking up garbage at the end of the day. I don't care you know, I'll I'll grab stuff. I'll pick stuff up. And then other like some of the older What are you doing, sir? Sir? What do you like it? Okay, guys, let's we all gotta move it along. So that's kind of like, Why are you picking that up? You're the director. I'm like, No, it's okay. If it's in the middle of the day. No, that's I have to do a job short. At the end of the day, we've wrapped. Let me help out. Yeah, let me help out. And I never eat first. I always try to let I always try to let the crew go before me. So they see that I'm like, No, you guys are busting your balls. You know, go I want to help. But these are the little things and no one tells you as a as a filmmaker, or as a crew person. There's these etiquettes these kind of hidden languages. It's almost prison yard like

Christine Chen 18:03
Yeah, totally. Yeah, I mean, I often say oh, we're like just glorified louvers. And we one thing from one side to the other side, and we do it again. Yeah, no, it's it's there's nothing super sure. After the product is all done and stuff like that. You don't care about the journey. Yeah, sure. It can be it can be it glamorous, but like it really isn't. You know, and

Alex Ferrari 18:25
It is for some men it is for actors. I mean, the act and sometimes it's not even that glamorous for the actors, because it looks glamorous from the outside. But when they're there on a on a on the 14th hour freezing on a green screen hung by cables. Yeah. And they're just like, I gotta be super now. Like, what am I doing here? Like it's, it's, it's, it's worse. There's harder. There's harder work in the world.

Christine Chen 18:48
Yes, there is. We're blessed. We're very blessed.

Alex Ferrari 18:51
There's no question but it is still not what everyone expects it to be. So it's really fascinating that way. Now the one thing I always love and I love what you wrote about in your book was walkie talkie etiquette. Now I I think when I was coming up there, yeah, of course there was walkie talkies. And I knew a little bit of it because I used to work on some some shows for Nickelodeon. So it was never the key pa i was i was always you know, office PA or or on set pa but it wasn't the key pa because again, not where I wanted to go down that road. But can you talk a little bit about that is a completely secret language and even to this day, I understand some of it but as a director, it's not something I understand completely. So can you express and explain to people what walkie talkie etiquette is?

Christine Chen 19:42
Sure. So that's a big thing. When you first go on it, you're not going to see it for a tiny, tiny Ciske small sets won't be able to afford walkie talkie. So we do first scan on set that has walkie talkies, that can be very jarring. I like what is this thing? At first it's cool and And then at the end of the day, you're like, Please throw this in the trash. Because you, you have this purse, you have several people constantly talking in your head. And for people who don't know, the walkie talkies are a way for things to be moving behind the scenes while set things are being shot. And you do it very quietly, because everybody has an earpiece in the ear and they can't hear, you know, it's not over walkie hopefully, and you can't hear things are happening because it's all in your head on over the walkie and so there's just a specific way that you answer respond. And it's very military, honestly, I've heard it is. It's it's I believe that's where it really came from. But a lot of it is the way I can describe it is like if you were blind, like how would you know somebody heard your message, understood your message and is working on your message, right? Because and you're delivering this to, you know, however big your crew is, because everybody is on the walkie, you know, in certain departments on their own channels, and, and whatever most for the most part, people were on channel one for production. And so you just have to get really good at being specific, and to keep the traffic on the walkie talkie as minimal as possible as well. So being specific, concise, and so you just, it's a way of efficient communication. And these shorthand ways of talking, this etiquette allows for this efficiency of talking on the radio. So it's hard, it's a lot harder said than done. Because there will be something that happens, you know, I don't know, the honey wagon is stuck, you know, and in the middle of the set or something and you got a new pa who's like freaking out about it because it's his or her responsibility to get this honey wagon out of the middle of the scene and everybody's yelling at them because it's, you know, taking up precious time from shooting, and they're describing this over the walkie and no but and somebody who is nowhere near that said is like what the eff is going on, you know, and you're just like, take it to, to take it to to, you know, put go go on a different channel. But like, you just don't, until you've gone through the wringer and you've experienced that or you've, you've been on the receiving end. To have perspective, that's when you realize why this etiquette is so important. But it's things like when you have when you're asking for a department for something, you know, wardro Can you insert what you need, Christine for you know, and then the other receiving in having to say, like copy, so they know that I heard the message, you know, type thing. It's just it's like playing telephone, because it can't see anybody. That's the problem. You know, sometimes you were all in different parts of the set. I think that's the that's just to give context, we are all in different parts of the set, that this could be within driving distance far away. This could be deep in the boonies and in because let's say you're doing a Wi Fi and you can't see people on set in the scene. So they're all hiding, like far far away. Or somebody who is in a truck who has no clue is in a fishbowl has no clue what's going on and said you have to communicate to all of these people in an efficient way. Something important or not, you know, so. So there's just a lot of shorthand for that. And it is extremely jarring when you have never had a walkie talkie and you get on set and you just want to like I don't know, just talk on it like a regular person, you know, like a telephone but it's not Yeah. So So yeah, I have specific, you know, lingo that's on there and as long as you can, you know, kind of get used to that you should be able to survive being a walkabout Oh, this is like practice you know?

Alex Ferrari 24:29
Yeah, exactly. And it's a new language and it's a protocols and how you do things and you're learn pretty quick that's the thing oh yeah real quick you the real the real quick if unless you just want to get yelled at constantly you know so you know for like Where's where's the where's actor? Where's actor

Christine Chen 24:46
Yeah, talent trial. Yeah, where is Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 24:48
Walking back to on our way a minute away. minute away.

Christine Chen 24:55
Eta eta of talent. Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Alex Ferrari 24:58
Things like that. So it's It's talent will come out of his dressing room to take everybody switches the two. Everyone's like what's going on? Like it's Yeah, yeah. Problem. So now one thing I have been asked this myself and I don't have an answer for maybe you'd have an answer for. There is so many secret names code names for basic things. Lauren said, Stinger is an extension cord baby. A baby. Yeah, baby, Apple, cheese plate, brick. All of these things. Why not just say, I need I need an extension cord. And I know that's too. It's a little longer stingers faster. Yes. That's why these things were and then

Christine Chen 25:52
I don't think so I think it just I think it's just a fast way to decipher something without having to because the thing is, there's like different sizes of certain pieces of equipment. There are different brands of certain pieces of equipment and stuff like that. And sometimes if you just give it like a pet name, that pet name is so different from everything else. It's just easy to identify it. You know, it's it's so like, I heard and it changes all the time by region by location, and that's the same thing. But yeah, like I heard taco cart, you know, that was another thing. Okay, grab the taco cart. But I think that's a Texas thing. You know,

Alex Ferrari 26:37
There is there yeah, there is a look, there's all sorts of new ones I heard the other day. God, I hope they don't bring in spinning wheels of death. For lunch. Have you heard of a spinning wheel up?

Christine Chen 26:49
I haven't heard of spinning spinning wheels.

Alex Ferrari 26:50
It's gonna go with that pizza. Pizza. So spinning. Spinning wheels a day all the peas like God, I hope they don't bring in spinning wheels of death have launched Jesus Christ. I'm like, What's the spinning wheel of death? And they're like, Oh, it's this and and, and there's one. It's a mean one. Because he's now passed. Oh, because this actor passed and they and I just remember I was on set. No, no, it wasn't I wasn't the Gary Coleman. It was a Mickey Rooney. Oh, have you know what? I'm you know what a Mickey Rooney is? Yes. Give me just a little creep. No, it's mean. But these are the things you're just like, Wow, man. Like how, like I hear like, give me a Mickey Rooney there. And then the grip the key grips pushing the dolly. And the DP is like, give me a Mickey Rooney. I'm like, I'm sorry. What's a Mickey Rooney is like a little creepy. I'm like, wow, okay. So it's just this carny prison led to military that is brutal.

Christine Chen 27:52
Extremely brutal are a man maker. I heard that one. Oh, I haven't heard him. Me. Oh, we have to have apple box and someone to stand on it. Oh, yeah. So wrong.

Alex Ferrari 28:06
I've heard that as a Tom Cruise as well. Give me a Tom Cruise. Just give them a little extra height.

Christine Chen 28:12
Height. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 28:15
It's brutal. It's brutal. It's look, it's not for the faint of heart being on set. That's that's

Christine Chen 28:22
It's very not peasy.

Alex Ferrari 28:24
No, it isn't. And that was one thing when I was when I was on set my wife who's out of the business completely. She doesn't know anything about our business. Yeah, she would walk on set while I was directing. She's like, how, how is this? Allowed? How's everyone not being sued left and right. For that what's happening being said, and this is all before me too. Before all that stuff. And I was just I just said like, it's just kind of the culture, it was the culture and it is, look, to be honest, it is sometimes a toxic culture. There's no question on set is a toxic culture. And for for females even worse. question like, I mean, I remember I was on I was on a production, I was directing. And I saw a female grip for the first time ever. And she was wonderful. By the way, she busted her ass and she was great. And I'm like, what does she have to put up with? Oh, from the grip department to hang with the grid? Yeah, nine in 2001. Can you? You I'm saying? Yeah. And that'd be so it's but it's, it's it is, you know, there's a lot of male testosterone running on set generally. So, yes, it has changed a bit and I think it has changed for the better. Yes. But, you know, I've talked to female DPS I hadn't seen I honestly didn't see a female DP until maybe like, eight, nine years ago. Like on Saturday. Yeah, it was just not a thing that you saw very often. But now it's becoming more prevalent and females are becoming you know, and people of color and all this stuff are all All coming on set, which is great. But it can be a toxic environment and you as a as a young PA or young intern coming in have to be aware of that. But understand that there is there's a little you got to get a little bit of a thick skin.

Christine Chen 30:15
Yeah, definitely. Would you agree? Yes, I completely agree. I, especially when you move up the ranks to when you typically get to bigger budgets and stuff, they are run by more older film veterans, and they have, they're just kind of stuck in the past. And so you're dealing with it more and more so than, like, if you're on a student project, everybody's like, woke and stuff, you know, but yeah, so So you're dealing with that a lot. And, and it's, it can be extremely frustrating. But you also have to realize that, in order for change to happen, you have to educate, so it's a lot of taking, it is harder to take the time to teach, it's easier to keep the same, doing the same thing or yell at somebody or, or whatever, but it's harder to stop someone and say, You shouldn't say that, or like I don't like, you know, that's not right to do. So it's it's, it's a slow changing process, but it is it is changing. And it's unfortunately, a lot of this is top down, you know, and and until there's enough time of cycling, to get new people up to the top to trickle down with new ways of thinking and stuff like that. We're going to run into that kind of thinking, you know, it's just it's, it's, it's not, I wouldn't say it's right, it's just a it's a product of the environment and the time period, you know, but yeah, for sure,

Alex Ferrari 31:47
Without question. And there's also another thing that is a culture that happens on set, especially if it's depends on who's running the set as far as either first ad director, DPS as well. But there's, you know, it can be stressful. It's extremely stressful. The SEC can be a little stressful. And every once in a while, you'll get a veteran who's just really comfortable with themselves, who will play practical jokes on set to kind of release the tension and my favorite is my DT a friend, a good friend of mine, DP, old veteran guy, he would always have a broken lens in his kit. And first AC or second AC would come up and he would just throw it at him. It's like a Zeiss, you know, like, Oh my god. Throw it at him. And I can hear put this on the camera and throw it right at him in front of everybody. And oh my god, and you just see this guy's face. He's just white just drained like blood. And, and he falls in the cracks. And then he would play it up. He's like, how could you drop you've cracked my lens. That's a $50,000 lens. What if, and everyone's just trying to hold it in. And before the kid has an absolute heart attack, they let them they let it go. So it's almost like a coming of age kind of almost mafia Aska like I come over here. It's initiation like You're good now kid come on. And he used to also have an old this is when we used to shoot film, of film reel with exposed film.

Christine Chen 33:20
Ohh no

Alex Ferrari 33:21
Throw the reel at the kid and the film would come all over the place and they were just like, oh my god, that was today's dailies. Like oh, that people would just think these little Hartman's sometimes you'll see that in the front of the whole set, but within departments there's like little not say hazing, but just fun, you know things to kind

Christine Chen 33:43
Yeah, I thought you were gonna say t stop. That's a pause. But more they send the second AC to go find T stops yeah, I've had I've seen that happen in the second AC like looking at the entire day for tea stops. I can't find it. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 33:58
I've been looking for tea stops I've called everywhere no one has that I have what I had once I was when I was in school, some old grisly post online editor like, you know, TV guy, and some some producer she came on in like a just a battle ram. And was Boston's everyone's just being a complete ass. And I was there as an intern watching this and, and the editor goes, Ah, God, and she was looking at footage from the day before, like, Oh, God, what happened? She's like, what happened? What happened? She's like, you know, if they would have done double double drop frame, it would have been better. So it would have just really steadied up the image quality. So you need double double drop frame timecode and she's like, okay, so she went on the next day to set and just rip every wire we shooting double double. I want my image to be he was like, everyone was just like the Did you talk to Henry, because everyone knew everyone knew he did it? Because they're all I think she actually got in trouble. But he didn't care. He had job security. But these are the kinds of things that, you know, they're so high strung pas and intern sometimes that you got to kind of loosen them up a little bit, because and also, by the way, when you're that high strung, that's when accidents happen. And that's when mistakes happen. And you got to lose them. loosen them up. Just a bit. Just a little bit. Now, you've been on set for a while now. Yeah, it was the worst day on set for you. And how did you overcome it?

Christine Chen 35:40
Um, I would say, one of the worst days was this happened not too long ago, about two years ago, I think tears. When was snow vid in Austin, Texas. The snow Apocalypse that happened the I've only been hearing so

Alex Ferrari 35:57
I've only okay.

Christine Chen 35:58
I think this was two years ago. And Austin had a freak snowstorm. And this was I mean, I think this was

Alex Ferrari 36:08
Oh, it'd be, it'd be January, February, if

Christine Chen 36:11
Yeah that was what it was. It was January. Yeah, February. And the producers were refusing to shut down the set. Because Because where we were currently, there was no snow storm yet. There was talk of it. And everywhere else in Texas, there were pile ups and I scenario,

Alex Ferrari 36:33
One where they froze, everything froze out. Yeah, the power grid went down.

Christine Chen 36:38
Yeah, power grid went down and stuff like that was a couple years ago. Yeah, yeah. And then it were in the middle of it in a hit. And I just remembered, it was both the worst, but also, there's elements of it, that like, were great, too. At that point, the, I think the crew knew that. Like, it was beyond my control, even though I tried to call it several times, but it you know, ultimately, is the producers called SIL. And every crew member gave me an article of clothing, because we were outside and it was really, really cold. And there was snow and it was blizzarding and everything. And like, we didn't have enough people were moving trucks and it was icy and everything. And luckily, he got called later by the producers, but it was a constant, like just communicating with the crew and being like, Hey, I'm sorry, I want to call it this is the situation like they hopefully will call it you know, soon type thing and just I think it sucked because I just felt powerless in that situation to ensure the safety you know, of my crew and the way I dealt with it was just constantly talking to the crew. Giving them like a play by play of what's going on from top down. I kind of did a little hint hint, like if you want to leave I'm not going to stop you type thing. You know, but I think your your safety is poor I think it's important and you know, please do what you think is the most important type thing. But I am under this is what's happening from top down type thing and and to be put in that situation really sought because it's people safety and when you have no power and you have no power to to ensure I can say I walk you know, but like that also is not good for the crew either, you know, and then they don't have the one person that's vouching for them you know there so it was a lot of like, Hey, this is what's going on. This is the play by play if you were to walk I'm not going to stop you from it and I support it type thing and and hopefully they're gonna call they eventually did call it but it but I think despite that really shitty moment feeling you know, having the crew each food I tell you each department gave me an article clothing so that I wouldn't like freeze to death. But like somebody gave me a hat someone gave me you know, a jacket, a jacket that was happened to be in their car. So one day I looked like this big ass like marshmallow with like 50 layers of clothing because we were outside in the snow was blowing at us. And we were not prepared. We were not none of us. Yeah, not prepared. And then then to have later on the director who doesn't understand you know that we were doing our best to make it happen. Like, essentially blame you for a snowstorm. arm in that everything was a shit show. But to then to have Karoubi like to stand behind you and say, yeah, it is a shit show because nobody that should have been called, you know, was like nice to, to have that support but like that it's just that was a terrible situation to be in when when people's safety isn't being taken into concern and your whole job as an ad is to ensure the livelihood and safety of your crew and you're powerless to do so I think that that is a terrible, terrible place to be at. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 40:38
Yeah, that is that's not a good place, which actually leads me into my next question. Are there signs that interns, young interns and pas and other crew members can actually see when a production is going down quickly? Like this, this thing's, hey, today's not hey, well, what? Well, we're gonna work 18 hours today and not get paid? Like, what are those signs? Yeah, those little things that you just can start? Yeah. I know, you and I could smell it.

Christine Chen 41:11
Yeah. Morale is a big indicator, in my opinion. Sure, there's some people who are crankier than other people and tolerance is lower. But I think when you start to have when departments start to talk amongst each other, and usually, yeah, and you can feel an overall dissatisfaction. That's usually a problem. Or I feel like if the culture keeps changing a lot, that's usually not a good indicator, either. When they're when there's a lot of unnecessary. People just yell, that's also just morale, when people are angry, and just, you know, yell at each other. Yeah, I think those are pretty big indicators as well. Or when you have locations or people who are separate from the production show up randomly, and they're not happy. That's usually not a good indicator, either, because that means something wasn't cleared somehow, and things are about to go. Crazy.

Alex Ferrari 42:34
So let me ask you this. So because the director obviously is, should be the leader of the ship, the leader of the captain of the ship, we're moving things forward. Everybody moves around what the director? Is he or she's ideas of what's going going on?

Christine Chen 42:50
Yes. In theory, in theory theory.

Alex Ferrari 42:53
In theory, that's, that's very loose flair, fluid, very fluid, if you will. But generally speaking, and when you're on a Ridley Scott set, yes. Ridley runs the show, let's just throw that out there. Simple as that. Right. So when you have that situation, what are signs that you don't have a good leader on the set? What are things that you've seen, because I'm, I'm assuming you've seen one or two bad directors in your day, you have not only hurt the production, but taken out, you know, just not understand how the system works that they have to make their day. Yeah, we can't spend five hours on the Scorsese shot. Because we're not Scorsese. And we don't have the budget that we have. So we like how all these kinds of things I'm imagining, you know, as an ad, you've seen directors come up with shot lists, which is, by the way, my favorite thing to do with when I work with an ad for the first time, show up there, 150 shots, 150 shots, and I just hand it to them. And they're just like, No, no, no, that you see, just see why. Because it depends on that also tells me what kind of ad it is. If the ad is going to come up to me and go, so we got to talk about this man. There's just no effing way. We're gonna and I'm like, that's good. Or, you know, we're gonna give it a shot. I'm like, Okay, no, which way which kind of a deed and I want the first one. I want the one that says, there's no effing way. We're gonna do this. But let's figure it out. And let's figure out what what, and I go, don't worry. I always do that. Let's see how fast we can move. I know, I'll probably only end up with 15 or 20 of those shots. Yeah. And then once I say that, they're like, Okay, it's not nuts. But but I'm assuming you've had that shot list or that storyboard. So how do you how do you see what are those things about? What are the signs in a director that you can see that they just not? They're in over their head?

Christine Chen 44:46
Ah, I think when the crew starts to lose respect for the director and how I see it is when it goes from, let's see what the director wants to what do you want and I'm Whoa, wait, I'm not the director, I'm the ad, when they start to look at for new leader, that's a problem. So which happens a lot?

Alex Ferrari 45:09
And that could be the first ad or the DP. Yes. Or the generally the two that they go to.

Christine Chen 45:13
Yeah, exactly. And so once i And Mike, why are the numbers of questions directed at me have increased significantly, as they're like, Ah, okay. Or they start questioning? Why a lot. Instead of being like, okay, that's what they want, let's do this, or like, or the IRA, like, oh, they want this, okay, you know, type thing. That's, yeah, sigh conversations, whatever gets talked on on channel two. When you, you can really quickly pick out when people have stopped, it's, or when people are trying to leave as soon as possible after a set has wrapped or hasn't wrapped, or they're planning on which bar to go to afterwards. And that is the only thing keeping them from walking off the set. That's when you realize that the director has lost the crew. But yeah, it's, I think, it's when concerns that are being bypassed, because I'm the director, and not, you, they considered get bypassed a certain number of times, that's when you really lose the crew as well, you know, like, hey, we can't do this, because, and then like, whatever, like I'm the director, make it happen, you know, type thing, that's if you do this so many times, like, you're going to lose the crew, because that is a quick indicator that you have no understanding of why their job is important, or why their job takes a certain amount of time. And why you're glossing over it, you know, I see this happen a lot with specific positions. positions for is that usually are like makeup is a big one. Art, things like that it doesn't happen as much with camera, or even sound because I think it's that it's when people, especially first time directors, when they go on to strike the there's a very easy understanding of like, hey, if we don't have the right camera set up, you're not going to get your shot, right. But the other positions are harder to understand the importance of unless you have done a few films or or, or you've worked on a set enough to understand the importance of, and I think that's the issue is that new directors who haven't come up the ranks or worked in a position, it's perspective, and when you lack perspective, and don't respect all the positions on set, you will lose your crew, and you will lose your crew, and they will start to look for a new leader. And that leader is usually the DP or the ad. So and so when I start to get Hey, what do you think we should do about this? Or actors? Oh, man, if talent is coming to you? That's a bad thing. Yeah. Yeah. That is very bad, like crew. Okay, because usually the he has interface with the crew so that, you know, there's a certain extent that that's understandable. But I think when the talent, no longer goes to the director, and goes to you the ad, that is a big indicator that things are going downhill fast. Yeah, because the tablet should never really need to talk to the ad, the the whole job of a director is to help you talk to the tablet. So at the top, so I revise, put that first when the talent is talking to the end, or the DIA, or the TP talking to any other crew member about their performance or what they're supposed to do that it's not the director, jump ship. Right.

Alex Ferrari 49:14
Another thing is, too, that I think filmmakers listening don't understand is the importance of feeding the crew and feeding them well. And taking care of them. And having surprise, you know, in between meals, like hey, you know, we didn't we didn't we didn't budget for a full dinner, but we're going to do a walking dinner, you know, or something like that, where you know, they go out and get some burritos or something to kind of hold them over until they can get to the bar is something but that's something that it's almost a second thought to young filmmakers. So like oh yeah, just get a bunch of pizzas and like eat that. Pizzas kill production. It slows everything down. Spinning Wheel it slows it down everyone. It's stuffed on cheese and bread and things like With that I remember an old remember dove Simmons. He ran a course called the two day film school. And he was like this. Just grizzled. Roger Corman? UPM. And he Oh my god, the stories he would say. And he's like, I don't have a lot of sugary stuff on my crafty table, because it will cause sugar rushes. And if it causes sugar rushes if there's tension, fights will break out. These are little things that you just like I was my mind got blown. When I heard these things coming up. I was like, wow, I never thought about he goes, and God forbid, if you bring pizza onto a set God, like, like, yeah, am I wrong?

Christine Chen 50:42
No, you're not. And if you're been on set a while, and you're really good at your job, you can start these are the details you notice you plan for, like I, I can tell like from lunch, I'm like, Okay, we had this, therefore, I need to build an extra hour. Before we're gonna start getting hot. We're gonna start moving like I like, these are the little details or you're like, Oh, we ate that. Okay, well, the bathroom situation is going to be a whole thing. Yeah. So this is like redoes. Yeah. Ah, you start noticing all these little details.

Alex Ferrari 51:17
I had a friend of mine on, on a, he was on the set of 24. He was a production designer and 24. And I went on, just to visit him. And we were working on a project together. And I just went on to visit the set. And when you walk on set I just saw crafty was the most insane crafty I've ever seen in my life. And then I stayed for lunch, and there's lobster tail and steak, and I'm like, What is? What is this? Like? I live in the indie world. And, and it was like, because at that level, you've got to that's just that's just the way businesses run.

Christine Chen 51:58
It's nuts Yeah, I remember the first unions that I got on, it was in Texas 2016. And I've only done indies before that. And I Yeah, you look at the craft services table, and you're like, Wow, this is the entire budget of my film. Right here sitting sitting here as Yes, yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 52:20
Can you imagine a Marvel set? I can only imagine a Marvel set like a quarter million dollar movie. I haven't been on a $200 million movie on either, you know, just you imagine the amount of chest? Ah, you know, it's it's, I can't even I can't even imagine. Now there's one thing that and this is one thing that you can get really in trouble for as a PA and an intern. And it's something that no one talks to you about I line by line if Christian Bale's situation with Shane Holbert taught us anything. And I don't think that conversation was so much about the eyeline, I think it was things going on. And then by the way, if you guys don't know what I'm talking about just Google Christian Bale on set. It's genius. Especially the remixes. But and by the way, Christian Bale had been on set since he was like, seven, five so he'd been it's not like he's new to set. Can you explain to everybody what an eyeline is? And how to avoid getting yelled at by talent, which is the worst thing other than being yelled at by the director or any of the other crew members? Like if you're being yelled at by talent? That's bad. Public, you pretty much you almost gone guarantee. Yeah.

Christine Chen 53:37
So an eyeline is like, whenever an actor is acting, there's a specific area where no matter where you're standing in that spot eyeline it's hard for the actor to not to they will definitely see you. And that's extremely distracting. So we are always trying to crew and are in it. If you don't have enough, you just know to as you know, Stan, and us more than usually where the video villages or something like that are in the shadows. Because if you think about if you're trying to, if you've ever tried to focus on anything, and you're trying to be in a difficult emotional spot, and you can't because a fly is flying around you that's what it feels like when somebody is standing in someone's eyeline. And so it's kind of a it's a frame of vision, where you will see that person if you're in that frame of vision, that's the eyeline and so your mate and you will accidentally sin eyeline and that's when you'll see people look at their look at the ground, be a tree, you know, like, try to not move around so that you're not Being a distraction to the performance and it's very easy to do. And you know, the best way to do it is in general, wherever the camera is, and where the action is being directed if you're kind of in that besides the director and the DP and stuff like that, you try to stay away from that area and and courtesy of asking somebody you know the talent aids or we are this is good spot or whatever. But if you can see the actor and you can make eye contact with that actor, you are in their eyeline move. Yeah, so if there that's the best way if you can watch the scene and you realize, oh, shit, the actor staring directly at me, you are in their eyeline if you can make eye contact with anybody who's acting that is within their eyeline. So

Alex Ferrari 55:59
And then also, the other part kind of tag on to that is being in the shot. Many times, have you seen the first day PA or intern has no clue about anything on a set, and they're just literally sitting in the back in the middle of the shot. When the director yells action, and you could just see them like this, like, I kind of could I kind of could see for this shot. Because you're in it. Like, and you hear the DP or camera or the director or the first ad hoc, get that guy out of the shot like you just like and you just start freaking out. Oh god, I've seen that happen too many times. Even if I see it on my site before we got to just get that guy out of the shop. If I'm in a great mood if I'm not in a bet if I'm if it's a rough day, I'm going to get my shots. Yeah. So please just be aware of your surroundings. Be aware of your surroundings. Yeah. And also, that's a date, that's a safety thing. Because some crazy stuff could be happening, the stunts could be going on, a crane could be coming down, please be aware of your surroundings and what's going on on set. And I know that's the job of a first ad to kind of let everybody in especially if there's a weapon on set, or there's a stunt going on on set. You know, you've got everybody,

Christine Chen 57:20
You bring it up a good point, I think the thing is that a film is a collaborative thing. And it's up to everyone to kind of do their part and be hyper aware. So with like safety, anything with safety, I always tell everyone on set like, Hey, I will be mad at you. If you double check my triple check whatever I'm talking about when it comes to safety, if a crew comes up and is like, hey, could we do the gun safety? Again? Could you shout out again that the street is locked or or that the stream is live or something like that? I'm not going to sure it under stressful situations I've like like a peer stressed about it. But like I would rather somebody triple double check my work when it comes to anything that has to do with safety. And yeah, no, I but I think collectively as a group, that's the only way for everybody to stay safe is if we kind of have like a checks and balance system. You know, there is a hierarchy. But people make mistakes, especially, we throw them under that much stress and limited time and limited resources and stuff like that. I think it's up to the tire team to look out for each other. So so everybody should be as hyper aware as possible. But it is so easy to become myopic, especially with what you're focused on undoing. And so yeah, no, it's I just think any any and this has nothing to do with the hierarchy. I think anybody should be looking out for their fellow man woman. Yes, it, you know,

Alex Ferrari 59:11
No question and has to be brought. Yeah, there's, you know, obviously, there's, you know, some some tragedies have happened in recent years about about onset safety and issues that that are horrible, and it happens, you know, stunts go wrong things happen. I think it's really about safety and trying to, like you say everybody's responsibility to say if see something, say something,

Christine Chen 59:33
Say something. Yeah, say something, say anything. Yeah. It's it can be hard to do in any group setting group think is a thing. So it'd be like, Oh, well, somebody else will bring this up or so you know, but I don't think you should, nobody should ever assume that, you know, type thing. So it's better to like, be annoying and have five people bring it up and like nobody bring up and then something happens. You know, some

Alex Ferrari 1:00:00
Agreed 100% Now I think it's appropriate to start wrapping up our conversation. What is an abbey singer and a martini shots? Oh? Because it's again, Carney language nobody? Anybody any normies out there with like what the abbey singer and Martin. So can we take what an AVI singer is and what a martini shows for everybody.

Christine Chen 1:00:23
So Abby singer is the second to last setup of the day. And people are usually very excited, because it's an indicator that we will almost go home. Sometimes it can be, you know, misnomer because Sure, maybe that second last setup takes forever. And you might do like 10 takes of it. But it is just a nice morale booster knowing that this is the second to last shot. And the reason why it's called Abbey singers, Abbey singer was actually a ad, I believe. And he was famous for saying, all right, that was great. But then you say, but let's do it again, type thing. So and one more, let's do one more. And so they coined the term Abbey singer after him. Because anytime it felt like they're about to finish, another thing was added right before it so it was before B singer and the Martini. Depending on where you are, some people in Texas have tried to make it the margarita or the Texas martini or whatever. But it's the last setup of the day, the martini and it's important in its when you've been on set, you hear it called out. I'm always trying to anticipate the abbey singer and the Martini, because these are indicators of letting departments know they can start to slowly wrap up stuff because, you know, anytime you've been anywhere you kind of like move in and you spread out and you your things get bigger and bigger and bigger spread out in space and, and having some extra time to slowly pack up your stuff and really make the exit of off the set that much faster and more efficient. So I'm always in veteran crew members will get annoyed if you don't call them because call the Abby singer or their Martini because they're like I could have been, you know, wrapping stuff. And now I have to after wrap spent an extra 30 minutes I could have been doing an in between setups, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:02:35
My team, am I having my teeth, but things that are that other setup breaking? Down? Right? Yeah, I suppose everyone's sitting around waiting for it just in case. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions as all of my guests, what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Christine Chen 1:02:53
And get advice would be to always think about what value you can give somebody before you ask for value from somebody else. So in any space and time, I think if as long as you can be invaluable to somebody and helping them on their set. When you're first starting off, donating your time, that type of thing that pays off, it may not pay off immediately. But you never know, five years from now, that pa that you were nice to that you helped out could be that could be your ticket to another job. And that's not why you do that, you know, so don't mistake and oh, let's be nice to people so that, you know, five years could be off. Yeah, no, I think that's just a principle in life is just like people will always know, after set is done. And it's crazy. And you've all gone through war together. People always remember how you made them feel. And if you can leave a lasting impression of, hey, when I dealt with this one person, they always made my day better, or help was helpful or something you will do. Great going down line. So that's that's if you want to break in. I, as a veteran, I will hire people who make my life easier or just easier doesn't need necessarily mean a skill set user can just be like, Hey, you made sure I had water the whole day and I you know, you made sure that I didn't I knew where my keys were the whole day that you know if I will hire that person over somebody who's had five or 10 years of experience that you know doesn't who gives me an attitude or whatever. And that's the quickest way to get roped in to get to be in with with people is if you if I can feel like I can you have my back. right no matter what. And so Oh, yes, long story is if you can approach everybody as a make your life easier? How can I just brighten up your day a little bit? I think you'll do just fine. So

Alex Ferrari 1:05:18
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Christine Chen 1:05:23
That it's okay to walk away. I think this is an I still struggle with this, I think you will get to a point where you love your career so much, and you love your job so much, you will want to give everything to it 100 To, to a detriment to yourself. And you have to realize that if you aren't taking care of yourself, you're going to be useless to everybody. So that means burning out, that means giving more time and over committing and stuff like that, or doing projects with people who don't respect you as a person, or as for your time, or your safety or your well being. And it is okay, to set boundaries by walking away. And to know that your career is not going to go down the waist, you know, it's not, it's not going to be over. Just because you wouldn't stand for the way you were being treated a certain way on set, and you decide to leave. And this is very, very, very hard to do. Because when you're on set, especially if you're a position like it being an ad or whatever, you're responsible for many people, it's not just yourself. And so when you leave, it feels like you are letting down, not just yourself, but everybody else that depends on you. But in the end much though, we love our job, and hopefully it is your passion, it is a job. And your safety, livelihood and your peace of mind and mental health is not worth sticking out just a bit more, you know, because that could have long lasting effects, you know, for your ability to work later. So that's, I still I still struggle with this, you know, just walking away and being okay to to walk away. Or, It's hard because you in this industry, it will feel like whatever opportunity that you have is the only opportunity you'll always you'll ever get in career, it will feel that way. Right. And, you know, there will be months where you may not work, you know, and stuff and, and in that moment, maybe turning down $100 per day. 18 hour job seems stupid, because that's $100 but but you're also setting an expectation, right? So the hope is by standing up for not doing that you are enabling other people to also have the power to stand up for that. So that it sets a standard that that is not how the film industry should operate. You know, it's kind of like the whole me to thing too. It's like, that's for me, if anybody is disrespectful, in that way to any of my crew members, I will walk no matter what, because I'm standing up for something and and say, setting the precedent that this is not okay. And are set and I think it gets hard, because you'll be on some incredible opportunities and stuff like that. And you have to make that decision of is it worth this opportunity? Or is this going to actually be damaging, you know, in the future or, or dangerous or whatnot, you know, so right, that's the that's the hardest is is walking away. Nobody wants to walk away,

Alex Ferrari 1:09:08
Especially at the beginning, especially at the beginning, you know, and I had to do it so many times. In with my post I like literally just turned away, you know, one of the biggest music video companies in LA and I just like I can't work with you anymore. You just too abusive. And a certain point, you just have to say, I'm just gonna roll the dice and, and generally works out. Yeah, it's not you will work again. I mean, it's not like you will and and if anyone ever says you'll never work in this town again. That's a guarantee that he will work. There's nobody that means they're so full of themselves. Yeah. If it starts off with Do you know who I am? And then goes into you'll I'm the director. I'm the director and I'll make sure you never work in this town again. Don't be scared. That's bullshit. If that doesn't happen, I've never heard of it happening. Ever anyone getting listed? I'm sure it does happen. I've just never seen it or heard about it. And especially if you haven't done anything wrong, people realize that and no one has that much juice. Not in today's world, maybe in the olden days where there was like, you know, 15 Productions going on in the entire country at one time. Sure, but now there's just too much work and yeah, it's Yeah.

Christine Chen 1:10:27
Yeah, don't compromise your integrity and compromise things like that. I think that's the hardest thing is walking away so hard. It's like a bad relationship. No, it's not working. I don't want to break away I want to break up with you. Because it's comfortable tonight.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:44
Oh, that's a whole other conversation which is a whole other podcast. And last question, three of your favorite films of all time?

Christine Chen 1:10:53
Three of my favorite I mean, it's funny this question always makes me laugh because all my stuff is not very sophisticated. I love Love Actually.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:06
Fantastic film. I love second best Christmas movie of all time behind diehard.

Christine Chen 1:11:14
I don't know I would argue because then the beta whether diehard is a Christmas movie,

Alex Ferrari 1:11:17
We had an episode. Someone I had a researcher Come on. It has been proven by the numbers that Die Hard is a Christmas

Christine Chen 1:11:25
Yeah, it is. I love that movie. I love Forrest Gump. So Epic is epic, epic epic film. And then I can watch Shawshank Redemption at any time any point any where if it pops up I will just find myself fixated on it and just watch

Alex Ferrari 1:11:48
Stop talking dirty to me. That's that's my number one Shawshank everybody everyone I know everybody listening just said Shawshank Yeah, no Shawshank is my number one is, you know, I just absolutely adore that film. And it has so many layers. And it's so deep and it just cuts through so much of the BS and yeah, it just it's so it's almost as perfect of a film in my opinion as it is.

Christine Chen 1:12:12
And I'll keep watching and being like why is it so perfect? And then I'll start watching and get lost in it and then forget that I was watching it to try to learn like something from it. I do that a lot with good movies.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:23
And what and another one that was the one that he did that Frank Darabont did right afterwards which is Green Mile is another one of those that just yeah, it just hits just hits right spot. Now where can people pick up your book get

Christine Chen 1:12:39
Sure right now getreelisms.com is a spot we haven't branched out yet to Amazon. That's a business decision. But yeah, get reelisms.com online. I think we also have an Etsy store. So if you use Google get reelisms and make sure the reel is R E E L. You should you'll be able to find it eventually. Maybe in a year or so we'll we'll be on Amazon stuff. But for now it's a boutique. And it'll be fun if you ever go into a rental house and Austin our I think there's a few now in Los Angeles and stuff like that. You see it take a photo. It's always fun. But yeah, but yeah, get Rosen's dot com is the best way to go about getting it.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:26
Christine, thank you so much for coming on the show and for writing this book. And I wish again, I had this when I was coming up and it is invaluable for anybody being on set it is a it's a survival guide on how to survive on set. Just understanding this is like the it's like the Rosetta Stone. Yes. It's a stone of film talk on set and how to understand it and everything. So I appreciate you my dear. Thank you again for all the hard work.

Christine Chen 1:13:53
Thank you so much for having me!

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IFH 628: Confessions of a Hollywood Studio Test Screener with Terrence Martin

Terrence Martin is known for his films Holes (2003), Get Away If You Can (2022) and The Donner Party (2009).

His new filmGet Away If You Can” starring Dominique Braun, Terrence Martin and Ed Harris is about a troubled married couple hope that sailing across the open ocean might bring back the spark that’s been lost between them. But, their relationship is brought to the breaking point when one refuses to explore a mysterious deserted island.

Enjoy my conversation with Terrence Martin.

Terrence Martin 0:00
But it also taught me that people can love a film. But if it's not hitting the right marketing, or it's just not the timing that, you know, it can still not be a financial success.

Alex Ferrari 0:09
This episode is brought to you by the Best Selling Book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome to the show Terrence Martin man, how you doing Terrence?

Terrence Martin 0:24
Great, man. Thanks for having me. We love the show.

Alex Ferrari 0:27
Oh, thank you so much, man. Yeah, you've been telling me that you were you were a fan. And you've been listening to it. And it was kind of like a lifeline of like what's going on in the business while you were going through your opus of making a movie, an independent film for seven years and all that stuff, which we'll get to get into your to your new movie. But I'm glad I'm glad we could be a voice of reason. And scare the hell out of you as well, along with

Terrence Martin 0:51
Definitely hearing some of the other similar horror stories. And when you make something new, and you have your head down for seven years, when you come out the industry is completely different. So hearing from your guests, helped us avoid a lot of troubles as we sold our film.

Alex Ferrari 1:07
Awesome. Of course, of course. That's why we're here to doing that man. So how did you get first of all, why did you want to get into this insanity? And how did you get into this insanity that is the business?

Terrence Martin 1:16
Yeah, and I got bit by the creative bug really early. I grew up in like, blue collar town in Connecticut. This was not like the who's the boss, Connecticut. It was a pretty tough, a tough town. And I got into something they deemed the gifted program, right? Where they ship you off to another school with a few few people, which was like the worst thing you could call something at that time because all the other kids like resented you. But when I got to this special program, every week, the teacher said, Hey, what would you like to do? And I said, Well, I love storytelling, I love reading, I love movies. And she's like, go in that room and just write and I was I must have been in third grade. And I just started writing. And, and I would come back and the teacher would say now read it. So that to me and the class and and she would always say yeah, your stories are okay, but my peers, my friends would start asking me for these stories. So since third grade, I had a really great relationship with writing. And my cousin was in film school, she was much older than me, and she would then take her 16 millimeter camera, and we would make these fun little horror movies on the beach. Because, you know, it was the VHS generation. So I would skip school and come home with like a pile of movies. And, you know, I was really into horror films at the time. So it just was writing and filmmaking were pleasures for me at a young age. And I kind of stuck through through through college, I wanted to come straight out to LA at 18. But you know, parents are like, you're gonna get your degree, you know. So I went to a liberal arts school, and I was pretty miserable unless I was studying writing, filmmaking. And they allowed me to to finish here at UCLA campus, they were just starting this thing called the New York Film Academy in LA. And they let me do like, basically a half a semester as credits to take this program. And it was right on the UCLA campus and right after they went to you to Universal Studios, and they needed people to help with the summer program. And I got a job with them, which was basically just running all around the lot making short films with these like crazy high schoolers. So we would like be at the Psycho house one day making a film with one and one of my early students was Max Spielberg. So it was just like, crazy. Yeah, he didn't really love it had to love like Steven for filmmaking. But it was so crazy to be like teaching Spielberg son, you know, not really teaching just being a liaison for his short films. But it was a really cool. Yeah, it was fun, man. And it really taught me that I had a lot of work to do, because most of my other teaching assistants were straight out of UCLA, grad school. So here I am, like, hey, I'll help you get your film made. I'll read your scripts. And they were like, who are you? Man, you just came out of the New York Film Academy programs. So I realized straight off like this is going to be very competitive. And I better work hard, you know. So I just really started focusing on writing scripts and reading everything I could. I had already taken to Joseph Campbell and the hero's journey that was probably my favorite arc book about how the writing process should be. But then I just read everything, you know, put my nose to the grindstone and wrote 10 or 15 scripts and was lucky enough to have a manager take one out on the town. It didn't sell but it was the exact story of The Revenant. But told through the kids to the kids perspective, who was Jim Bridger, but it was that same strapping mission, which is like a famous mission. I remember going into two meetings. And just because they passed, I thought, well, if they're meeting I still have a chance to get this vague, you know, instead of just like cultivating a relationship, I would be trying to press you know, this mountain man script and I was meeting with this executive, she's like, Hey, you're really good with story. You're cool with characters, but we're working on Scooby Doo too. And I said, Can we call it Scooby don't make eyes rest. This American epic and her face was like, record stretch. And I thought, okay, like, I'm doing this all wrong.

Alex Ferrari 4:52
Like, why can we call it stupid?

Terrence Martin 4:56
I was making a silly joke, you know, but it was like, okay, Cool. Thanks for coming in for the meeting Terrance. We'll be in touch.

Alex Ferrari 5:04
So lesson for everyone listening, don't do what Taryn said.

Terrence Martin 5:09
But also realize like, I don't know that I want to be auditioning as a writer for Scooby Doo, like, I love the show as a kid, but I want to do my own stuff. And that's, that's when I started writing the Donner party, you know, which, which ultimately got me.

Alex Ferrari 5:21
So, so. So during this time, there was like a little, little side hustles you had to do in LA? To make a living, you've had some very interesting ones. Can you talk about your time as a test screener because test screenings, we all hear these legendary test screenings, like the airplane one, which was notoriously bad, because nobody wanted to admit that they liked it, or, you know, all these kind of movies that like the the ending of fatal attraction was changed because of the the test screening. So what tell us your adventures in the test screening phase and what actually goes on behind the curtain because I truly have never been, I've been in a test screening once or twice in my life, but I truly don't know how the studio's work within it and what the process is and who you know.

Terrence Martin 6:09
Sure. Well, I had, I had gone from the New York Film Academy and I knew that the summer program was ending, so I kind of just was walking around a lot and I got a PA job on holes, which is turned out to be kind of a hero to that generation was shot on the bus first movie, but man, it worked me I was a PA in the art department from start to finish. And I came out of that thinking, like, what kind of job can I do where I make my own hours, and I write and I don't know, if you ever living in LA, we see these guys like giving out free movie passes all the time. And the point that point is to rate the film. And I thought like, there can't be an easier sales job and get a person to see a movie. And it did turn out to be a lot harder than I thought. But it was still pretty easy. And it was really good money. Like if you put in the hours, you could work whenever you want, you could go to a cinema 12 at night and get people if that's what you felt like doing. And I liked the freedom of it. And they started to ship me off to other cities. So what would happen is you would get like a demographic you would say, hey, like I remember the ring was an early one, the first ring I went to San Diego and they wanted high school age, girls and boys. So we would go to high schools and we would talk to teachers and try to get like their perfect audience and then they would all fill out a questionnaire and the filmmakers get a score. Basically the main score is like how many people rated it very good or excellent. That's like the number one score because they can really say oh wow, we have a movie that super plays and then the other score is like how many people recommend it for sometimes the like it but they will recommend which can impact the box office. So I just went on this run for like four years of just a different city every Friday because basically if you're filling screenings they need you like they need people who are getting numbers just like any sales job. And we were killing it so I had this partner and we man we did the highest scoring movie just so people get an idea of like what studios really want was hitch Wilson it like I had never seen a movie score that high. I think it was like 99 or near 100 in both boxes and will and will snatch was at that screening and you just gave the scores to will and the director and their faces because they know how key the scores are to the studio and it's their faces just lit up like they won the Superbowl they were like, like that, like you can't get better than that like and the movie was a massive hit because it's such a such a crowd pleaser. You know, and I realized in the screenings when you make something just that pleases the crowd. It's a really special thing because the dramas even when they're good like Coen Brothers stuff, I don't know that they test so great because people need time to reflect you can't just put a paper in someone's face. Tall monkeys was one that didn't test well at all, but still had good critical acclaim and has now become a hit. But people didn't know what to make of it from the first moment. So it's not conducive to like saying, Yeah, I love this because you're just like, well, what the hell was that? I'm sure like 2001 You know, wouldn't test well either, even though it's a complete facet. Because Because these movies need more reflection. And probably the coolest thing I've ever seen in a test screening was I was working on Inglorious Basterds here in LA at the I forget what theater it was. But nobody had seen the film. And Quinton being who he was. And Harvey would generally bully when I worked for Harvey would generally bully filmmakers, he would use the scores to get to cut the movie he did. So quit and just took all the cards when they were done through the trash right in front of Harvey, and said I'm just going to talk to the audience about my film. And it was so great. It's so refreshing to see a filmmaker just so proud of his work. We can even want to see the scores. I mean, I wouldn't ever recommend this to a young filmmaker that has an opportunity. Unless your name is Alicia names. But yeah, but it was cool. Finally, a guy in the audience like had the courage to say hey, like, I don't know why you would use a David Bowie song in a period movie. And he goes because I'm the director and I love it. They're like, okay, cool. Okay, cool.

Alex Ferrari 9:53
Now, it's nice, but that's pretty fascinating. Now I've heard those stories. of Harvey during his heyday that he would bully filmmaker. I know studio 54 was a really big one. He just literally just took that away from the filmmaker and cut it up and made it into something that it really wasn't good. Later years later, the director got a chance to do a director's cut. But yeah, I've heard I'm imagine other studios and studio executives would use the test screening results to kind of bully or push around directors to get what they want. Right.

Terrence Martin 10:31
Yeah. And to be fair, sometimes the film's just not working. And right. Yeah. And they thought they had a crowd pleaser out. I thought they had a genre of film that scared people and it wouldn't work. So the directors would come in and recut it. I started work for Judd Apatow a lot. I did the first test screening of 40 Year Old Virgin. It was awesome. Because we were in 1000 oaks in the in the film broke. And there was only like 10 minutes left, like everything had been resolved. And everybody just stayed glued to their seats. And I remember I was sitting there, Seth Rogen, I said, man, like you are gonna be massive after this, because you could just feel it the energy, but John was really good because he's a comedy guy. So he could read the audience. And he could do a second test screening with a couple of key jokes and just tweak them in the editing room or reshoot something and then the crowd would explode. So for comedy I think test screening is like so essential even even on

Alex Ferrari 11:20
Even even on that level. But did you also see multiple test screenings on the same film so like you would see the original it tests bad they go back shoot, we had it come back and get like did you go through that process too?

Terrence Martin 11:35
Yeah, for for knocked up. I didn't test bad histones never tested that but but the ending was a boy, I think in the original in it. It was like addict joke. I don't know if I'm supposed to say this, but I don't think Joe would mind. He's such a cool guy. And it was like you had so much that the whole whole movie that when you change it to a girl and he had the ability to read the screening and make that adjustment, and it just made you leave with this kind of like warm feeling not not just a joke. I thought that was pretty brilliant that he made that adjustment. And I saw that a lot with filmmakers that were open to the test screening and those were the filmmakers the studio's really wanted to work with because they they knew that their their their film could be changed and when a director was new and they were too married to it, I found like wow, like a lot of guys never worked again after a bad test screenings because they were they were inflexible with their with their film.

Alex Ferrari 12:28
You said you also worked on the departed, right?

Terrence Martin 12:31
Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 12:32
With with with a young and up and coming director at the time they Martin Scorsese, Marty, Marty, something like that. It's easy. So skeezy what was it? So I'd love to keep because he's legendary for being on our tour. Like, truly, you're not touching a frame of my movie. So what was a test screening of like a legend like that was? And was he in the room? Did you do it?

Terrence Martin 12:55
Yeah, that was exciting, man. Because of course, I'm a huge like, for me, like one of the tops like, I mean, he just he just hits home runs like that's what he does. So I was so excited. And we were in Chicago at this cool art house theater. But he had been so like, nervous about that. He told the projectionists not to start with film until he gave the okay, but nobody could find him. And it was my job to find him. So I'm running around the theater, looking through seats, all the lights are already down, like the movies ready to go. And then finally I find them and I get on the wire. And I'm like, Hey, I'm here with Martin. And the projection is it goes, Okay, cool. We can roll now. So he had already talked to his technicians and made sure like, on his command only to go. And the movie was almost exactly what what came on the final screen. There was there was a few key scenes where Jack Nicholson was really improvising that that I noticed were a bit shorter. And I thought that was a really smart move on his part. Because you could kind of feel like, Oh, this is great acting, but the story wasn't moving at the same pace that it was. And it was really interesting for me that he even he who is you know, such an artist. Yeah. And his his famous editor. Thelma was there so that was awesome, man.

Alex Ferrari 14:06
That was so so so so Jack, because I know in that movie, Jack Nicholson, he would kind of you know, I think you'd do a take or two or how many takes of the script and then Marty would go go nuts and see what and a lot of that did the improvised stuff did fall into the in the movie and it's such gold because it's Jack Nicholson

Terrence Martin 14:26
But if you saw that first cut before and like it was like that, like in a few companies with a couple of minutes extra which I love, but I realized like I mean he won the Oscar for that so he could feel you know, it's so interesting when when you're in the movie house, you can just kind of feel the energy dropping, you know, which is funny that I made such an art film get away if you can, because this movie would never test well if you like the movie, you don't make but I just needed maybe all that testing I needed to express myself in a in an artistic kind of way. You know

Alex Ferrari 14:59
What lessons did you learn from that test screening experience as a filmmaker yourself?

Terrence Martin 15:04
I think when I'm writing, and my hopes are to make a big bigger budget movie to really think of the audience, you know, like, really think of how you're making people feel if you're trying to scare them really get that right. Is it like you're writing for the audience in a way? You know, film is a business and these big budget movies need an audience. And it really taught me that the audience is unforgiving. Even with a free movie, they would leave often, you know, they would say, hey, this movie is not for me. And sometimes you'd be dealing with like a half a theater and you would realize like, these guys have spent millions and millions of dollars these are not small movies had made a complete flop. And, you know, if you're not thinking of the audience, there are certain budget levels, you can get away with art, right? But when you're doing these big films, man you need to deliver

Alex Ferrari 15:48
What was the worst screening of a big movie that you ever or you could say, I mean, like, test screening anymore.

Terrence Martin 16:00
It was a it was a DC comic that never got another one made. But I liked the filmmaker a lot. But it was like a true disaster. And it was his first feature. And he didn't want to make any other notes with the studio. And he never got he never got to do like they took a huge risk in hiring him. And did that movie get released that movie? Yeah, got released that got released. I'll just say it was a DC comic hero, not the main ones. But but it was quite sad because they put a lot in there was some innovative stuff with the sounds and the music, but it just didn't deliver in some of the effects teams were laughable. So the whole audience would laugh, and not a good way. And instead of cutting that, which they should have done, they left it in and it's just it really took people out because you know, if you don't deliver great CGI with these big tentpole movies, that's where people are judging the visuals, right? So it would have been so much smarter just to cut it out. But, you know, it was just, it was quite sad because he was about my age, and I just saw him just butting heads and I was like, this is not going to end well for this guy. You know?

Alex Ferrari 17:05
I mean, if you're Ridley Scott or Martin Scorsese, you can get away with that because you've already had decades of creating behind you but when you're first up man, you and you get a shot like that. Yeah, to play you got to play ball it's a balancing act where you need to protect your you know, your artistic and you know, artistic integrity, but at the end of the day, people are spending God God just hundreds, like 50 million 100 million dollars. Yeah.

Terrence Martin 17:35
This was and he had the audience telling him to like we do like overwhelmingly just seen as laughable cut it taken away but it just you know, sometimes the filmmakers stubbornness, like you like it, and you don't care that the whole world and maybe your careers never gonna get another shot like that. And

Alex Ferrari 17:53
Yeah, yeah, good. No, no, no, no, I feel bad. I feel bad. What did he say? What did he do?

Terrence Martin 17:58
He put on his battle hat. It wasn't at all like taking notes. It was just like, I am battling. And that's that. And, you know, we've never got a chance to make a big studio movie again.

Alex Ferrari 18:09
I mean, I feel so bad for the guys who did bad girl. I mean, that's, that's hurt. I'm like, even bad movies get dropped into streaming. Why would they don't have a shell of $100 million. And Michael Keaton was back for God's sakes. Man, like what is going on?

Terrence Martin 18:28
Even if it doesn't play? Like you have so many fans that are going to check it out? And comment on it and talk about it?

Alex Ferrari 18:35
Like they release cat woman when I mean, is it worse? Like how much worse can it be than cat woman? Or cats? Let's just put cats. How much worse get gonna be the cats for God's sakes. Yeah.

Terrence Martin 18:48
And you have like a thirsty film audience for it too. So even if it's bad, it's like you're gonna have people watching it. And that's the main thing was streaming because you want eyeballs and time. So that one thing prize me.

Alex Ferrari 18:59
I think they really actually if they decided right now they just say hey, you know what? We're putting it on HBO. Max. Do you know how many people would just watch it just that weekend?

Terrence Martin 19:07
All Twitter would just be talking about this.

Alex Ferrari 19:11
It would it would trend as the as the kids say Would it be trending? So is there a Do you have an insane story like that? Just like I can't believe this happened in one of these screenings.

Terrence Martin 19:22
Well, yeah, I mean, the Quinton was pretty awesome, because I was like, wow, someday to have that power as a creative force. But I had a really good one, which was kind of sad to what Denzel Washington he directed a movie called The Great Debaters and that scored really, really high. But at the same time, he had that movie where he was she was like a criminal kingpin coming up in American Gangster Yeah, totally. But he didn't drink that one. He was it was a really it was really really so all the energy of his directorial debut went to that film and even when I was testing it, everybody's like, No, I don't want to see that Denzel one. I want to see that crime one. So Even though that movie scored super high, audiences didn't come out for it. But I remember like working with, like, didn't sell a selection. And I had the cars and he's like, how much to make those all good. And I'm like, you don't need anything like they're wonderful, like people are really loving your film. But it also taught me that people can love a film. But if it's not hitting the right marketing, or it's just not the timing, that, you know, it can still not be a financial success, even with Denzel promoting it and and I don't think he actually he only directed it.

Alex Ferrari 20:30
No, I did. Did you? Did you also work with the academy in some way? I heard you say,

Terrence Martin 20:36
Yeah, I had a job of one of my early peers had a job right out of film school, like hosting talent coordination on the red carpet. So he would basically hire you as a page for the Oscars and the Emmys. And you would do it on Friday, and you would get like a program of the whole show. And you would see like, three celebrities that you are in charge of making sure they were on camera when they needed to be. And that would include like meeting them on the red carpet and greeting them and, you know, there's every every now and then there's like a person who doesn't show up when the nomination and that's that's my job, like somebody screwed up in my job because that's highly coordinated. So

Alex Ferrari 21:16
You shouldn't be in the bathroom is what you're saying.

Terrence Martin 21:19
Yeah, exactly. And they should know exactly Hey, your your awards coming up or you're presenting and to commercials, we take them to the green room or the or the producers really want you at the start of the show. And that was insane because I started that in my early 20s. And I remember early on, Russell Crowe was one of his first years and the Academy Awards. I forget if it was beautiful mind or, or what came first, but they really wanted him at the head of the show. But his publicist was having him do like, interview after interview and it's like, okay, like we're three minutes to go and they just say grab rustle. We don't even care if it's in an interview. So I, being a good employee just grabbed turns like he's gonna punch me in the face. And I was like, Oh, my God, like I'm about to get hit I max Maximus. Totally. I think this was maybe even free. Free Gladiator. But But he said, What do you want? And why are you bothering me? And I said, No, I worked for the for the show. Like, if you don't get your ass in the seat right away, you're gonna miss the whole opening of the show. And he's like, why don't you just tell me that right? Come on. And I ran him in Entertainment Weekly, the next day was a shot of him looking at me and you could see me in the corner like, like this, like really small. And it nobody knew the context of it, but it was really crazy. And but I that could have been like, I could have been that guy, you know that. Everybody would have been talking about that. The next day, Russell knocks out a page on the red carpet.

Alex Ferrari 22:42
So So in your new film, it's called getaway if you can tell me the journey of the seven year because you know, I'm all about filmmakers making their movies. And I know we're all nuts. You know, we're crazy. When you get to the seven year mark, at a certain point, you just gotta go is this is this really? Should I keep going? You know, did you did you finance the How did you re mortgage? refinance the house? Maybe first born? Like, what was it? What was the journey? Why did it take so long to get up and running?

Terrence Martin 23:16
Well, I had, you know, through all the screenwriting and nothing selling through managers taking my scripts out, I wrote a script about the Donner party in my mid 20s. I had this like stupid gold, I had to make a feature by 30. You know, like, of course, and I finally did with the Donner party. But instead of doing it on my own credit cards, I ended up taking other people's money who then had Final Cut. So basically, like, even though I put together a cast, we had Gary Oldman at one point wanting to do that movie, we had some really strong interest, but I gave up Final Cut. And I didn't know how dark a place that would take me to to see producers making choices. It's all subjective, but that I did not agree with it all and then have that movie, come out and sell the Showtime and it was an early stream or on Netflix. So it did get a platform. But I was really disheartened. I said, I'm never going to do that. Again. Even if a movie takes me 30 years. My next one is going to be 100%. And I fell in love. I found the love of my life with this woman, Dominique. And she She's like the kind of person that I would watch a movie with. And we both get annoyed with the same plot lines and get excited about the same movie. So I thought, hey, like our tastes really lines up. Like what if we just did a project together? Travel the world go to different islands. So it's not a total loss like the movie set mostly on this island off the coast of Chile, but we went to kawaii first we did like a year of scouting, you know, and even if I have to put my own finances and take a loss, we don't have any children at this point. Like it's gonna be a great life experience. And when we did the rough cut, it was just her and I and we submitted that seven years ago to Sundance and like right before, they made their announcements to get like 100 views. And we were like, Oh man, like Sundance is really considering our Vimeo link and then we got a letter from the head of At that time saying, hey, like you just missed it like, guys, like there's something here don't give up on this project. And we were like, okay, cool. Like I had, I had met Ed Harris to hear a potluck at the Academy Awards, and I knew I could get him that footage. So I said, Hey, like, what do you think of it? Harrison, my wife was like, the abyss is my favorite movie, like. So we had to configure what we had shot to work at in but but we had sent it to Ed and didn't hear anything for like, four months. And finally, I get this little handwritten letter saying, Hey, guys, I got your link, I started watching your movie, I'm intrigued by can't figure out how the link works. Send it to me again. And we were like, Oh, my God, we have a chance. And he watched it. And he said, Hey, like, let's meet for breakfast next day. And after breakfast, he said, I was meeting you to tell you I'm doing the show Westworld. So this was the first time he was and I won't have time to do it. But after meeting with you guys, and seeing how you're gonna fit my character in, um, down, you just have to give me a year. So that was a whole year of just waiting for him, you know, fair enough. But we were like, we have an icon now. Like we have Ed, if he's really supportive of division, he wouldn't have done it if we hadn't shot that stuff. You know. So we knew that we thought we had something special. And Ed did too. So this encouragement kept us going. But when we cut the the head, cut it, it felt so into the male energy, which we didn't want, we wanted it to be very balanced. So we had to find an actress to play Dominique sister, and we actually she's from Argentina. So we ended up testing, Martina Guzman, who's one of the top Argentine actresses, and they have a really similar like, but that took a long time because she has a Netflix she has two Netflix shows she does. And she was into it. But again, it was I think waiting about a year. So that's another year of waiting, and then a whole editing process. And then it was only during the pandemic when Domian I finally like said, Hey, we agree with this cut. We had been through a lot of editors, and we just, we couldn't get the story to where we both felt it was everything it could be. And during the pandemic we finally did. We had an editor named Ross, who really came in and talked to us quite a bit and worked with a sudden, we finally got it to where we said hey, like, we're happy with this. Let's let's take it to market.

Alex Ferrari 27:11
So after so what are you doing the seven years to survive? Brother? You're living in LA? I mean, like, are you doing the pay? You're not doing page stuff anymore? Obviously.

Terrence Martin 27:20
No, that was that's just a temporary job. Actually. It's a funny story, man. The guy who I tested who was the best test screener, like he could just, he was he was like addicted to Italy, and he would just go to get hundreds of people and he was my partner on the road. But he was like total gambling. So we would go to Vegas for like long stretches. Adam Sandler love to test his movies at this place called sandstone, which is off the strip. It's like this, but it has an AMC in it. So he did all his movies there. So I'd be stuck in Vegas with this gambling addict for weeks now. Go and you know, play blackjack with him every now and then and lose and just say hey, I hate it's like, I don't want to gamble at all. Like I'm not into it. And he said, Well, why don't we try poker man, like you can really beat the game. And I said, Really, I don't know much about poker. But it was starting to like blow up at that time. And because we had so much downtime, I started to read books on poker. And you know, within a month or two, I was making double what I was making testing and I can make my own hours.

Alex Ferrari 28:13
So I started became a professional gambler.

Terrence Martin 28:17
Yeah, this was like the early 2000s. And the games were just rich. Like even in Hollywood, I would go up and actors wouldn't even know like anything about poker and it was just like a freefall during that time. And I would just start going. I don't know if you know, the commerce is like the biggest poker room in the world. It's right off the five right here in commerce, like LA was the home of poker even before Vegas. Yeah. So I mean, I just put all that into the film, really? And I thought hey,

Alex Ferrari 28:46
So Okay, I got it. I got it. Okay, so let's back up here for a second because I've heard of I've heard a lot man, I've, I've, I've done almost almost 900 of these at this point in my, in my career here as a podcast or an interviewer. I've never heard I've had professional gamblers on the show. Yeah, some actors who actually became really good. And they've gotten to the world series of acts of poker, of poker. Yeah, of poker. So I know of the world. But I've never heard of a filmmaker becoming a professional gambler. And using that, to survive, and to make a movie with

Terrence Martin 29:21
Yeah, I mean, for me, it's like, I'm not a gambler. That's why I'm so good at poker, like the gamblers are why you make money. Like I'm just sitting there, I'm playing the odds. I'm waiting.

Alex Ferrari 29:29
Your professional, your professional poker player, not a professional gambler.

Terrence Martin 29:34
Although all the regulars would make fun of me, because my wife would make me like an organic sandwich and I would take out my sandwich and listen to calm music, and they would be like, you don't even try to pretend you're a gambler. And I wouldn't I would just sit there for seven hours and wait for big hands. And at that time, I don't know if you still could be I think everybody's gotten quite better at poker, but there are those that just blow off steam and want to gamble and that's kind of what you're looking for. You go on Friday, Saturday, Sundays and

Alex Ferrari 30:00
That's pretty fast, pretty fast. And then you would go up like up into the hills and stuff like that the actors houses and stuff.

Terrence Martin 30:04
Yeah, I would. But you know, those, those games can be quite game dangerous. Like I've had, I've had a really famous actor that I used to play with, you know, robbed at gunpoint at one of those games, like, people find out those games are going on, and they can be robbed, and you don't have like, the safety of the casino to resolve disputes. You know, like, I actually got into a really, really big fight got thrown through a window and had to choke out this pretty well known actor over a poker dispute.

Alex Ferrari 30:32
We will we will discuss who that actor is off.

Terrence Martin 30:38
You all like that. I say I choked him out, because he's kind of a tough guy. But it was either that or just kept pummeled to the

Alex Ferrari 30:45
Will tell Russell Crowe next time, he shouldn't be messing with you. I'm joking. I'm joking. No, that's, that's really fascinating. Man. I've never I've just never heard that. I've just never heard that filmmaker doing that. So that's yeah,

Terrence Martin 30:57
Filmmakers out there, I don't recommend this. Because you have to have a certain makeup, you have to like love chess, you have to love game theory, you can't be a gambling addict, you will just lose all your money. You have to just like anything put in the work. You know, I read five of the top books of the time before I even said, do you still do it? Yeah, you know, sometimes, but, you know, the, the movies now ticking in? Or? We're, we're hoping that keeps me off the tables.

Alex Ferrari 31:27
I mean, it's, that's fascinating. Because I mean, yeah, I understood that poker is, you know, a game that you can kind of understand. And it's there's, there is some chance, but if you're looking at how the how the table is being laid out, you can, you can actually it's you can actually make it a goal a bit of a profession out of it.

Terrence Martin 31:45
Yeah, and after a while you develop a database. So you see, like, you have an edge, even higher than the house edge that Vegas has over the gamblers like 1015 percentage, and the good games that can go even higher. So it's just like, if you know what you're doing, it's just, you know, there's there's no losing, because you just have to put in volume to cover the losses. But any night, you know, you get aces, you get it all in and you lose. You gotta be cool with these people when they do that, because that's how you're making money. You can't get frustrated with people for breaking your good hands. You know, that's, that's, that's why you're making money.

Alex Ferrari 32:19
That's fascinating, dude. So you got it. So I want to talk to you about as a director, you got Ed Harris on set, who is an absolute legend. There's a, you know, in the trailer alone of your film, there's some intense scenes with Ed, where he is yelling at you. Only the way Ed Harris can yell on screen. He's such a great yell, oh, my god.

Terrence Martin 32:45
Cast him and I get some anger out of like when

Alex Ferrari 32:48
He like that when I when I heard that. I'm like, oh my god, it's the rock. Oh, my God. Like it's just like that yelling. So the so one, how do you approach directing an icon like that who's honestly coming down from the Mount Hollywood, and doing a little indie film because he kind of, you know, I enjoy it. I think we could do some cool stuff here. But he's doing it out of just truly love. So it's not like he's getting a paycheck out of this major. Roach, directing them, you know, an actor of that caliber.

Terrence Martin 33:19
What I loved about it is he directed Pollock, and he started and himself. So he's like, really sympathetic to our journey as independent filmmakers, he volunteers at the Sundance Labs every year, he's, he's really a good soul of support. But, you know, as far as having him on set, I was really glad that I was playing a submissive character to him, because I could feed into that energy as an actor. There was one really key scene in the office, like very close to where, and I hope Ed won't mind me telling the story because that really helped the scene become better. And I was super nervous. And I'm saying action, and he's not coming. And I'm like, oh, man, this is the big scene. It's even hear me and it's like, a minute goes by two minutes go by I say action again. And then all I hear is I hear you, motherfucker. And he comes barreling in and does the scene. So the reaction you see, is not just acting, it's like, he shocked me into the emotion that was needed for that scene. And afterwards, he smiled, and he said, Was that cool? And I was like, Yeah, that was awesome. And I looked at the footage, and that was what we had used. He wasn't afraid to, to take those kinds of chances. And, you know, we were open to them. We had like, worked on the script a lot at his house, but he knew it needed something it felt felt stale, but you know, and he injected that energy into the scene and I really thank him for it because that's what you're saying that yelling scene that looked on my face is is not just acting, you know? It's doing it Yeah, me being like, holy like I didn't know if like I shouldn't say action, like, like my brain was just doing a million different things that and that was the energy that was needed for that scene. So I thought that was really generous of him and you know, he's he's a good guy like for him to play this character to that is a bit controversial in this Political time period. You know, what? Was was generous of him because he's not like that at all in real life. Like, he's so supportive and cool.

Alex Ferrari 35:09
And he, I mean, he's, I mean, it's you're releasing the film on the tail end of one of the biggest movies of the last. Last, and he's in it. He's in Top Gun. And he plays he's just so good, man. He's just so, so good. He just chews up the scenery, with his performances. And I mean, he's just remark he's such a remarkable actor. Is there anything that you took away from him as as a as a creative

Terrence Martin 35:36
From an acting standpoint, I learned so much because I acted when I was younger, but I was never big into like driving across town to audition. I just thought it was such a lottery ticket that I've had friends become successful at it, but they really put in the time. And I much rather write or do projects on my own. But what it does that I found really helpful is he actually does the scene before the scene of the movie. So through improv, and he wants to, like play that scene out. So he knows how to go into that scene. So when we do the dinner scene, like we say, Oh, hey, Dad, how are you making steak come in. So we kind of like lead up to that scene. And that was really helpful to make sure when you're on the scene, it's not just figuring it out, like you've already come to that energy. And I had never

Alex Ferrari 36:17
On set? but Oh, really, so you'd like, like you yell action, or you would like work it before the scene?

Terrence Martin 36:22
No, just in a casual kind of way. So it was like, hey, like what happened five minutes before we get into the scene. And we do like a little improvisational exercise. And I find that really helpful, because then when you get to the scene, like the energy is already built to there, you're not just like, starting from scratch. Yeah, it doesn't take that doesn't take that much time. And it must have developed that technique somewhere. That's something I'll take with me forever, I thought that was a really good way to go.

Alex Ferrari 36:47
I've never heard that technique. That's a really, really good technique thinking about that. Because a lot of times you as a direct action, and you just,

Terrence Martin 36:56
Start yelling at each other, like,

Alex Ferrari 36:59
You've got to rev yourself up to it. So at least if you have some context of what happens before and after the scene,

Terrence Martin 37:05
Yeah. And if you're not, like, nailed down to like the reality of the script, right? Because you're just improvising the energy of it, you know, you're not even shooting. So it's like a kind of a free fun exercise. And that's something man, that was great. I mean, working with him was just so good, because he's a filmmaker too. So he's constantly seeing it from that side. And I had a great time on the Donner party. And the actors were more like, into the idea of my character, this that, which is typically how you go. And I came away from that with a much different experience. Like I only want to work with people who really get the overall point of the story that you can talk with deeply about the themes and ideas and not just their character, but how it all relates to the greater greater whole.

Alex Ferrari 37:46
That's fantastic. Now, as directors I asked this question often on the show, you know, as directors, we all have that day that the entire world has come down crashing around us. It's usually every day, but there's the one day, what was that day for you? And how did you overcome it?

Terrence Martin 38:00
Oh, man, well, we shot on this island called Robinson Caruso, which we as filmmakers talk this like guy into giving us a renting us their their yachts and getting in and told the captain, hey, yeah, we can handle open sea, like we've never done it before. But I'm sure we'll be fine. And two days, I mean, it was like a four day journey. And about half an hour in I wanted to start shooting right away, and our editor's face, just like turns completely white. And by the end of the, by, by the midpoint, he was coughing up blood. And it was very scary. And I just thought, oh my god, I'm actually like, people are gonna die on a movie like this is a disaster. And by the time we got to the island, we had already crossed the halfway point. So we couldn't turn back. So as soon as he hits land, he gets to a phone calls and calls his girlfriend and when necessary, so he says, I'm so sorry for everything I've done, My life flashed before my eyes, I'm going to be a better man. And the whole energy of us, our crew, our small crew, going through that just make everything a breeze, because people really had like this profound sea journey, you know, that they really thought like, maybe they wouldn't come out of it. So. So that was a very scary day. I mean, if I think if we hadn't crossed the halfway threshold, we might have turned back and certainly wouldn't have the movie that we do have.

Alex Ferrari 39:16
And I have to ask you, man, because you know, it being done an independent film is tough enough, but you decided to do it in nature. You decided to go on boats in an island, and going underwater and surfing and all this kind of stuff. Like, yeah, don't do if Jaws taught us anything, is don't shoot on the ocean. I mean, they mean, come on. So how was what was that like on a limited budget?

Terrence Martin 39:44
I mean, it was a struggle, but that's the kind of stuff we'd love to do in life. I mean, not to that extent, we now know like, the voting part is not a fantasy of ours, but we thought if we're going to pay for a film, like let's have these experiences that we'd like to have in real life as a couple together, and then we'll make Got a film too. So it even if the film doesn't have any successful I've had these amazing experiences. And I love being outside. I love surfing. My wife is an advanced scuba diver. So all that stuff you see with the seals is all 100% realistic. And

Alex Ferrari 40:15
Did you get the seal? Did you get the seals in? Did you fly those in from LA? LA seals?

Terrence Martin 40:19
We got to seal Wrangler. You know, we actually had a local guy that was like, yeah, the seals bite people all the time. So that was like the extent our wrangling was like, Okay, let's go for it.

Alex Ferrari 40:30
This is the insanity of being an artist and especially the insanity of being a filmmaker like there's normal people don't do this.

Terrence Martin 40:41
We were also able and filmmakers can maybe other filmmakers can benefit from this we were able to take from Argentina, some of the most talented people of the Argentine industry, and their rates are just not Hollywood rate. So you're getting a guy and my guy Lucio, he shot 40 50 movies that are good movies in Argentina bend festivals all around the world. But you're getting a much different rate than Hollywood union rates. So we were able to keep the budget low. And I'm I'm sure any country that makes films probably in India, you can also find talented people, you know, you can look outside the Hollywood channels.

Alex Ferrari 41:14
Absolutely. I know a lot of filmmakers have done that shooting outside and there's a lot of talented crew around this world doesn't always have to be Hollywood other than seal Wranglers. You need from Hollywood without question. And the financing of the film was also financed by you.

Terrence Martin 41:28
Yeah, it was all self when we got aired, we had to go sag. So we actually took on some some executive producers, but the same problems started to happen where they wanted to, even though they promised to say we won't have any creative input, it's just the nature of when you take money from someone, you you have to invite that and this project wasn't that it was a passion project for my wife and I so it wasn't one that they could kind of massage into being too much of a thriller or this. So we ended up buying them out once once we knew like we were going to kind of put out the movie and you know, in a way that we weren't getting like a ton of money upfront, because that's still what a lot of producers want even though that's very rare. I've learned that from your show, like Donner party I think was like a quarter million dollars up front, you know, so that at least a year was that what year Yeah, exactly. So but producers still think that's going to happen now. And from your show, I learned like not only you don't want that because you want and an honest distributor and you want your ceiling to be much higher than that. And if your movie catches on, and you have 80% of it, like you can still stand to do

Alex Ferrari 42:29
By the way out of that a quarter million for Donner party. How much more Did you get after that?

Terrence Martin 42:34
I got nothing.

Alex Ferrari 42:36
Exactly. That's, that's the game. They're like, yeah, we're buying your movie for 200. We're not telling you buying it, but we're gonna still just That's all you'll ever see.

Terrence Martin 42:43
Yeah, and I didn't even have a point on it. It was just like a for hire job, even though I basically did a lot of the producing. And I just totally didn't want to work that way. Again, it's like, part of the beauty of this industry is freedom for me, you know, I love making my own projects. And even if they don't sell or I don't get a chance to make a big studio movie, like it's fun, like, it's exciting and fun to do art and craft and story and the Hollywood interaction can be very disheartening at times, you know, it's mostly rejection. Yeah, I try to keep my creative, very separate. And over the years, my ratio of like, pursuing the industry has gone way down just for mental health, you know, so the more I'm creative, the more I'm doing this. And even if it's just a hobby, which I hope it's not, it's fun, you know?

Alex Ferrari 43:32
Now, how did you get the distribution?

Terrence Martin 43:35
Well, we had a great lawyer, he's like, started out on Monster and and rather than then tried to showcase at festivals, he had given me the distributors that were doing very well during the pandemic, and giving his clients accurate payouts you've been giving money and actually paying their client Yeah, and not like a little bit of money, like a lot of money. And these are like indie films with with one or two known guys. And this was his top one. And he said, Do you mind if I just share the cut with brainstorm? And I said, Yeah, sure. Like, I'd like to go straight to distribution. I don't want to do this whole journey of trying to get into a great Fest and sell it that way. And they liked it. And they said, Hey, like, skip it all. Let's just put it out and see what happens. So we were like, right on. Let's do it. Let's put it out. And and we just did press and some people, the first waves were pretty negative, but now we're getting some rave. Some people are really responding to it. So I think over the years, well, we'll find our audience and at least if you get some percentage of people loving your film that that can be a lot, especially for an indie. And where can people see it? Well, it's on Apple TV, now it's on prime and then we'll find a streaming home down the road. I'm interested because of your show. Also on this ad revenue. Where are you? Oh, Avon. Yeah, Avon seems to be a way to make some so I'm sure we'll do that. And then we'll end up I'm sure at some point with a streamer and a more long, long term kind of deal.

Alex Ferrari 44:57
I mean, there's no question that this kind of film will very well with Avon because it's oh no it there's no question you put Ed's face on the thumbnail, and people are flying by and they're gonna It's he's so popular because of Westworld. He's just a legend because of who he is. You put his face on there with YouTube on there in the background, but it's Yeah. And Senator Sullivan um, yeah, and thumbnail going by and I always tell people this, what do you do when you're watching? When you're going on Friday night? You're screaming you're going through your stream, or whether it's HBO or Amazon or Netflix or Hulu or whatever? What do you do? You scan? And when do you stop? Either when you find something that's in a niche that you absolutely adore? So if you're a surfer, you're gonna watch a surfing documentary or surfing movie, if you're a skateboarder, or things like that, those things might attract you. But generally, it's a known face that you you're like, Okay, I know, because there's so much gluttony of product in the world right now. That for me, even to try for five minutes to try something that I'm not know. Like, I don't know,

Terrence Martin 46:07
Switch. I do the same thing.

Alex Ferrari 46:09
Exactly. But I got to the point where I don't even try unless it's something I've heard about or I feel about. So that's why Adam Sandler has three picture 100 million dollar deals every years because Netflix knows that when you're there on a Friday night, and I've done it, man, I look. I love Adam Sandler films. I think they're fun. They're escapist. They're, they're dumb and ridiculous. And they're funny, and they're just, they're just what they are. Yeah, they were they are what they are. They know what they are. And they try not to be anything else. But oh, and when there's a Kevin James David Spade, a Chris Rock. What's his name? The other guy from Bigelow, those guys all the characters that are all the characters that are in the Adam Sandler universe. Sure, when you're scanning and you're like, oh, this new Adam Sandler movie. I know what I'm gonna get. Because it's safe. So, you know, you rarely watch it unless you watch something like hustle. Which was the New Adam Sandler movie when he's a it's a drama.

Terrence Martin 47:14
I love it. Yeah, the basketball recruiter Yeah, I love what he does like uncut gems. So and, of course the one he did Paul Thomas Anderson, like when he ventures into that he probably loses solid his core audience but you can tell like he's really going for it. He's a great actor, too.

Alex Ferrari 47:29
And he actually could play basketball from what I understand. He's like a real like, he actually played basketball.

Terrence Martin 47:33
I heard he has a cord at his house. And it's like a little Hollywood Game that goes on. Yeah, example when I was testing Adam movies like the audience when you would come to them with an Adam Sandler movie. Their face would just light up with good vibes. So yeah, he earns that money because a certain percentage of our entire country and world just love the guy you know, like he

Alex Ferrari 47:54
Someone's watching them as much as he might be trashed out, they're like, oh, it's an Adam Sandler. Go f yourself guys as someone's watching him.

Terrence Martin 48:02
Yeah, and printed critical responses so on I mean, they they missed it on so many great classic movies. The first critical wave is very negative. And it's takes years and Adam is gonna go down as one of the top guys like Jerry Lewis, you know, like, an icon of comedy, no matter how, how the reviews were at the time,

Alex Ferrari 48:22
And you have to ask to reviews even matter anymore. They don't they don't have the like the Roger Ebert or time those thumbs could destroy a movie. Or make make or break a movie. And then the time of any cool news when that was a real site that did a lot of big stuff. I mean, they destroyed Batman versus Robin like they, they took down an entire studio movie, because of what they did. They said about it. But these these days it is there's too much content moving too fast.

Terrence Martin 48:56
Exactly. You'd love for to get the tomato, but great movies don't get the tomato because it's tomatoes, easy. It's almost like Siskel and Ebert. Thumbs up, thumbs down, you get the red tomato. It's like, okay, it's interesting.

Alex Ferrari 49:07
Right! And even then, how many I mean? Yeah, it's nice, like, 100% Fresh. We all want 100% fresh in our movies. Yeah, but generally speaking. It does who like doesn't matter? Yeah, it's not it didn't, doesn't have to sway. I mean, people used to sit there and listen to Gene Siskel, and Roger Ebert and whatever they said, exact moved the box office, they

Terrence Martin 49:32
They were our friends, right? They felt like friends of you who are talking movies to you. Like that's how I felt growing up. So when they really went and you could see that energy. It was like, I have to see that. So but yeah, there's no reviewer now I think that commands that level.

Alex Ferrari 49:46
No, no, there's not even a website that really has that kind of juice other than Rotten Tomatoes, which is just basically a bunch of critics. Yeah, it's just aggregate. Brilliant. Yeah. And then the audience. It's like it's a weird it's, I don't know. I don't know what Anyway,

Terrence Martin 50:01
we had one five star that didn't even get to Rotten Tomatoes. And I tried to get this five star review there, and he reviews for a major newspaper. But for some reason he's not a sanction, rotten tomatoes here, but it's a shame because it was like a dude who really fell in love with get away if you can. That's awesome.

Alex Ferrari 50:16
These are the frustrations of filmmakers. I get a five star review. I can't put it up by nature newspaper. But so my friend, I'm going to ask you a few questions asked all my guests. And if you've listened to the show, you know what these are, so you better be prepared? I do. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to get a break into the business today?

Terrence Martin 50:36
I would say fall in love with the process, you know, like don't let the negativity can get in you. And I've seen it happen to so many people. And really not only like spoil your journey in this business, but spoil your life in a way and you fall it fall in love with creativity and writing. And you keep that separate from the business. And I'm not saying don't put all the hustle you have into doing it. But really fall in love with that process. And don't let anybody take that from you at writing, directing acting like you can do those things on the cheap and have it not be related to your success financially. And I think that that's been a key for me and something I would recommend to every creative person.

Alex Ferrari 51:14
Now what is the lesson took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Terrence Martin 51:19
Work with good people, man, even if even if, man I know how hard it is. But if you take money, as you know from taking money from the mob, it's not. To che, I know how hard it is now, because that's the science. You just want the money to do your project. But if you put those blinders on, you can really screw up your life or be killed literally.

Alex Ferrari 51:45
Yes, sir. As as my book has very, how not to follow your filmmaking dream, as I like to call it.

Terrence Martin 51:51
Yeah, exactly. So if you work with good people, you end up happy and that's nice.

Alex Ferrari 51:56
And three of your favorite films of all time.

Terrence Martin 51:59
This one is a tough one, because I was going to tell you, you should have a podcast just where you ask this question. It could be like five, bring up all your favorite guests and just talk about this. But because I'm writing like a bigger budget thriller, I've been studying thriller, so I'm just gonna give you the top thrillers of all time. And first is a sixth sense because I don't know if people now realize how big that twist was. That's all anybody in film was talking about was this twist to capture an audience's imagination with a twist. Like it's just I've been studying the script, reading it, seeing how it's been worked in. So I would say that, that's that's one 2001 Because it's I'm writing a sci fi thriller. And that's got the science but it's also got the thriller aspect, you know, the man versus technology. And it's just so beautiful. Like you can learn something new about it the each time you watch it, and my all time favorite thriller is Hitchcock's rear window. And I've heard it's just impeccably put together, beautiful cast, everything relates to the story. And because we'd get out if you can, we're so free and improvisational. I want to do a movie where you just Hitchcock was the best at shot structure, you know, like every shot, told a story and was related to the next shot. And so I've been really studying that film. I just think it's a wonderful movie.

Alex Ferrari 53:14
My friend, I appreciate you coming on the show and sharing your insane journey. Insane journey of making not only this film, but your journey through this business and how you've survived it because it is a it's survival and you're still at it, man. And I gotta give you props for that because a lot of people would have quit a long time ago, and just pick it just become a professional poker player full time. Exactly. No, you're insane. And that's okay. That's what we are. We are insane. So creatures that just like no, no, I'm gonna make my movie. Even if I gotta take money from the Bob. Fine. I'll just do what I gotta do. But I appreciate you my friend. I wish you the best of luck with your film. I hope everyone goes out and sees it my friend. Thank you so much.

Terrence Martin 53:59
Thanks a lot Alex.

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IFH 627: Creating Friday the 13th & the Horror of Hollywood with Sean S. Cunningham

Sean S. Cunningham had a successful career of starting films cheap and fast. Originally from New York, Cunningham had a vast knowledge of directing films and came to Hollywood. He started about the same time Wes Craven did. Cunningham meets Craven and decided to make a comedy-romance film called Together (1971).

Then they both shocked the world with the rape and ultra-violence of The Last House on the Left (1972). Craven directed the flick and Cunningham financed and produced. However Cunningham wanted to get a mix of comedy and horror and made Case of the Full Moon Murders (1973) and then started other comedy films like Manny’s Orphans (1978) and Here Come the Tigers (1978) .

Struggling in Hollywood Cunningham saw John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and wanted to make a follow up type film but would possibly regret it. Cunningham brought Friday the 13th (1980) into the cinema in 1980, a year of many other horror films.

Friday the 13th (1980) was a shocking, gory and violent film about camp counselors being slashed by a killer and had Betsy Palmer in the lead role. Little did Cunningham know that Friday the 13th would have never ending sequels. Cunningham gladly avoided all of them and Friday the 13th remains one of the most popular horror films in history. Instead Cunningham wanted to make it big when he brought a best-selling novel to the screen, A Stranger Is Watching (1982) with Rip Torn, but it was a disappointment. Cunningham went downhill with the over sexed teen comedy Spring Break (1983) and The New Kids (1985). Cunningham then produced House (1985) and several of its sequels. Cunningham next entered the world of underwater terrors after The Abyss (1989) was released. Cunningham did a follow up called DeepStar Six (1989), but it was a flop, however it beat another 1989 underwater thriller Leviathan (1989) at box office receipts.

Cunningham was finished with directing and moved on to producing films and teaching. He produced The Horror Show (1989), My Boyfriend’s Back (1993) and Friday the 13th’s last sequel Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993). Cunningham then did yet another follow up to Friday the 13th with Jason X (2001).

Enjoy my conversation with Sean Cunningham.

Sean S. Cunningham 0:00
He told me, he's like, I have a dream speech. But his dream was he wanted to chop somebody's head off on camera. So you could really sell that had never been done before.

Alex Ferrari 0:14
This episode is brought to you by the Best Selling Book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome to the show Sean Cunningham. How you doing Sean?

Sean S. Cunningham 0:28
I'm doing great. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:30
I'm doing great, my friend. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I've you know, I've not only been a fan of of that little movie you did back in the 80s. With the person with the get the hacking and the stuff. I'm a fan of that, and what you did there. But I mean, I when I was in a video store, I worked in a video store from pretty much 88 to 93. Many of your movies were on my shelves from deep star six. And, and so many movies, spring break. And many other ones that you that you directed and produced, which you've done a couple of you've done a few things in the business, my friend, you've done a couple for sure.

Sean S. Cunningham 1:09
I've survived since the 80s.

Alex Ferrari 1:12
Exactly, exactly. So my very first question to you is, how did you get in this business? How did you start? Because you started back in the if I'm not mistaken, the early 70s producing?

Sean S. Cunningham 1:25
Yeah, I got well, it's weird. I was working on Broadway, some stage manager and I thought, Oh, maybe I could produce something off Broadway that would be that would be better than just stage managing all the time. And I looked at that. And I said, John, there's no way I would invest a nickel in an Off Broadway show. And let alone you know, recommend it to my friends and family. So I was looking around, do something. And then I guess the long story short was that I said, Well, if I were going to do a play, you get some actors, you get a script, get some costumes, you rehearse that, when you finish, then it's done and you show it to people. So making a movie can be more different than that. Exactly. And so that's how that's really how it started, I made a I made a sort of was the name used to be white coder, you know, an actor or come out in a white coat, and say in the better interests in the interests of better marriages in interpersonal relationships. I'm going to show everybody how to fuck better. Fair enough this week, but we didn't. This was before. Before there were any any overt pornography, but it was a it was a strange way to get started. But it spoke to the fact that I think one of my biggest assets is I didn't know what I didn't know. So therefore, I didn't have these red lights saying, oh, you can't do that. Or that's crazy. Or, you know, what are you doing? And I would just just kept staggering forward. And what happened with this, this little movie is that, oh, I needed to get in a movie theater. So I got the yellow pages, which they had then and when are movie theaters, and near the top of the listings was Brandt theaters. Now bingo Brandt was in his day, a legend his family owned a whole bunch of property in New York and they own theaters and 42nd Street. And he was very kind and he said he looked at your movie, I play a movie kid. And I said, Great. How does that work? And he explained it to me and and you know, a certain amount of money comes into the box office. And then after that we split it 5050 I said, Okay, that's how it works fine. And he ran the damn movie. I think it ran for something like 27 weeks or something on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway. And so the Make no mistake, the movie is terrible. I mean, you know it, I mean, and even looking at it kindly. It was terrible. But I had something that other people didn't have as I was a producer of a hit movie. You know, it had play, you know, it got made for $1 and a half and it played in Times Square. And it made a bunch of money compared to what it costs. And so that was that was basically the beginning for me. And good. No, I was just that I I had a background in theater and then doing Broadway shows and Shakespeare and stuff like that. But what drove me when I first wanted the film business and continued to drive me for a long time was not to not to fulfill, you know, some great creative vision, you know, I just wanted to make something and sell it for more than it costs to make it, you decide a family, and kids and you know, all kinds of things. And so I had to I was in the movie business to make a living. Now, that's not to say I didn't enjoy a whole bunch of different things and, and different kinds of movies and try to, you know, tried to figure it out. But at the end of the day, I think that that was, that was one of my guiding principles is, you know, how can you who's gonna buy this, and, and why.

Alex Ferrari 5:59
And you know what, I'll tell you that's so refreshing, because most filmmakers that go into the business go into it as an artist, and not as a business person. And if you can find that combination of a businessman and an artist, or a business person and an artist, too, that's when you get real success. And it was really interesting that you came out as a producer first, correct. Before you before you started directing. And then you produced another little film with a young up and coming horror director, Wes something or other? Yeah. The last house on the left and 1972 you was that his first film as a director?

Sean S. Cunningham 6:36
Yes, it was. Wes and I met at 56, West 45th Street, and he was working as a cab driver. And he was also syncing up documentary 60 millimeter film down the hall. And, and we needed someone to help in the editing room, and we became friends. And, and there came a time when, when some of these guys that I knew, wanted to make a feature film for their driving theaters. And so they asked if we wanted to do it, I said, Yeah, I think so. Let's I never made them. This is a movie movie. And, and, and West said, you're all writing because he likes to write was one of his one of his things. And, and so we got this script, which is kind of roughly inspired by version spring. And, and, you know, and it had some, you know, dreadful, horrible twists in it. And we just, you know, it was like, I'm being kids sneaking out at night and drawing graffiti on the on the walls, and nobody catches, you go home, dude. And but that was, and that picture was turned into, you know, sort of a cult film. But this time, it was so disturbing to people who saw it. They wanted to close the film down or, or, you know, Lynch the people who made it. And, and it's true, and

Alex Ferrari 8:32
No, I know, it was 1972. I mean, you said,

Sean S. Cunningham 8:36
Was released we made in 71 70 71. And was like, how do you really becomes how do you do this? You know, I remember it was, yeah, it was shortly after, after last house. I went to California to see people in the movies for the first time. And there was a company called American International pictures, and met this guy called Sam arc off and he got me onto a few sets. And I came home with these stories. And it included. Say, Wes, let me tell you about this. There's a jam called script supervisor.

Far as we were concerned, you know, that was somebody that just took a roll of tape, held it up to the camera and gave, you know, clap to sync it up. Or if you had a cigarette to know how long it was on a certain line but but not only was a great idea, but I just didn't know that there was somebody that really did that job, professionally, and how important that job turned out to be. But that's the kind of less The kind of ignorance I was dealing with.

Alex Ferrari 10:02
And then also, I mean, back in the 70s. Look in the 80s. When I was coming up in the early 90s, there was barely any information about the filmmaking process in the public eye. I mean, you had to go to a film school and even in the 70s, I mean, film schools were starting to get off the ground with Coppola and those guys. And Scorsese and, and them coming up. But there was just wasn't a lot of information. Now, everybody knows what the script supervisor, everybody knows what like they, you know, ever you can make a movie with your iPhone. So it's so much more information out there about the process. I can only imagine you guys were just basically bumping around in the dark, essentially. Yeah, yeah.

Sean S. Cunningham 10:39
And you know, and we survived her lucky to get by. And then we went on to whatever the next, whatever the next thing was going to be.

Alex Ferrari 10:48
So then there was a another movie that came out out of California, that about this guy with a mask on, who was killing? Who's killing people. And it was a huge hit. I remember it was called Halloween. It was it was called Halloween, and it was a big hit. And then, was that the inspiration for you to start trying to figure out Friday the 13th?

Sean S. Cunningham 11:12
In some ways, it was I saw Halloween. Oh, gosh, I don't remember six months, maybe before Friday 30s. Before I decided to do phrase searches, maybe nine months, I don't know. But I thought the covers are made a terrific film. But what I really liked about it was that it was so small. And so so personal, you know, seemingly Curtis going around the dark house and some Steadicam stuff outside and, and and it just really worked. And so it's you know, it said, you don't have to have these giant crews and do all this big stuff. We could make a small movie song as so long as there was a market for it. And maybe you can figure out how to make how to make, you know, a scary movie, you know, at this point, last house was in my rearview mirror way back. And I didn't want to make some version of last house again. But and I had been I made two children's films in the late 70s, which a loved one was on baseball, the other side on soccer. And I thought that that was where my career was probably going. And the soccer movie was actually it was okay. But it got optioned by United Artists. And so they wanted to make it into a TV series. That was great. But it's gonna take six to nine months or, you know, to roll around. So how am I going to raise money? What am I going to do to keep the machine going? And when I was working on the kids, soccer roving. One of the things you do is you come up with trying to come up with titles, this movie opens, nobody comes better titles get a different title. And so you make lists of titles. And well, I was one day when making lists of titles. I said on Friday the 30s, huh, man, if I had a movie called Fridays or teeth, I could sell that, you know, that was the that was the entire thought. And so that, you know, cut to six months later, however, however long was the end of nose around the Fourth of July. And I said, Let's try to make let's try to make a scary movie. I want to call it Friday the 13th. And it was a question of, well, can you get the rights and who knows what the rights are? And I said, Well, yeah, I think so. And so I took out a full page ad in variety, you know, Friday, the 13th crashing through mirrors and glass, the most terrifying film ever made in. And I figured if there was somebody that had the rights to that isn't gonna respond. And few weeks passed, I never heard word one from a lawyer. And, and but I didn't hear from distributors said Well, I'd be interested in that. And I'd be interested in that. So we spent the rest of the summer trying to come up with a movie, which was okay, what's scary, what can you do this, like, scary? And, and be kind of fun. And Victor Miller, who I was working with at the time, you know, we said, well, what if it's sort of like, you're a kid and you're in bed and you think that, oh, there's somebody in the closet and the kids holy? All right. Well, well, let's make a catalogue of those things and, and see if we can include them in this sort of structure. So I was trying to Find set pieces that seem like, seem like they would go together and Reyes, roughly I mean, it's, you know, is kind of 10 Little Indians got a bunch of people in the woods dying and being killed. And so you in the audience say, Oh, who's doing that? Oh, not her, she's dead. But he died too. So he gets smaller and smaller. And it wasn't that it wasn't that I had ideas of trying in some way to imitate Johnsville. Halloween, it was just that we had a small budget, we didn't have any stars, we didn't have any distribution or production plans. But figured let's just try to make this thing and see it, see if it works. And, and then we'll come back to the children's film spring.

Alex Ferrari 15:55
So personal, it seems to me that that you guys were basically creating the template for this kind of horror movie, because I know John's had a high school that was a little bit bigger in scope. Then Friday, the 13th, you, if I'm not mistaken, was the first movie which is like, take a bunch of kids into the woods and kill them off one by one. I don't think that's basically a template for a film now like what?

Sean S. Cunningham 16:21
Yeah, I would hasten to tell you and anybody that happens to be listening to that, I think that there were so many shortcomings in Friday the 13th. And, and the film was grossly successful, not because of those things that we did wrong, but in spite of them. So what happened was, so what happened was that, oh, look at all the money they made, all they did is take a bunch of kids in the woods, chop them off, and, and there, you already have a movie, I think he killed 10, people will kill 20, it'll be so much better. And the thinking isn't far off of that. But I you know, over time, forever and ever. I keep thinking, no most important part of anything you do, like this is the story. And the story that you're going to tell. And it's very, very hard to come up with a good story well told. But that's, that's where the money is. And if you can figure out how to do it, or how to get a story, then you're off to a good start. And I think people who write good screenplays get paid a ton of money. And the biggest reason is that, so few people can do it, you know, and it takes, you know, it takes so long to learn that craft. It's not just getting a copy final draft and start typing. See, you know, it's it's different than that. So I, I think that my advice is, you know, three most important things in a movie or story, story and story.

Alex Ferrari 18:17
Without without, without question. And you know, when you're out there making this, it's again, it sounds like you guys were just literally bumping around that night, no pun intended. While you were making Friday the 13th. And you know, you've got a bunch of young kids, one of them happened to be a young Kevin Bacon, which is I always find fascinating. He'd done a I think he'd done Animal House. He was an animal house prior to that. And I'm sure he was just happy to get a job at that point. He wasn't sure. He wasn't. He wasn't Footloose just yet. Yeah. He wasn't great at you know, a great kill, if you will, if you're gonna say kids in that film. And so you so you decided to make this movie, you're starting to cast? Who gives you money for this kind of film that it is not? Other than Halloween? Been a financial success yet? Because it came up pretty. Pretty soon right after Halloween. So within a year or two, right? Yes, yes, within a couple of years. So Halloween is the only one that's done like, broke that kind of opened the door open about it and said, Hey, there's a market here, who who's crazy enough to give you the money to make this right now?

Sean S. Cunningham 19:28
What happened was that John, John's Halloween was a really good movie, but it was in the days of view used to go to Cincinnati, and you'd have 10 prints in the back of your car. Right and you sneak out some new newspaper ads and put up posters in the lobby and see if people came you might have radio as you know, you're trying to figure out how to do it. And if it works, okay in Cincinnati and you get your 10 prints or then hopefully it's When he prints you go on to the next market and now you've refined your refined your sales strategy, and you go to another market, but you never opened why that nothing was really never done. The first picture to open really wide in I think was 800 theaters at once was drawers. Right? And when it came time to figure out what are we gonna do with Friday 13th A backup and tell you that the money that came the money for Friday this Thirteen's came primarily from owners of theatres and drive ins. And we had we had worked on some other little things before. And I wasn't ever sure if I really wanted to get back into into bed with these guys. But I said what the hell, we'll just we'll make a movie and just do it. And so they have relationships with Frank Mancuso. And paramount. And we took it to Paramount and Paramount, the executives, for reason I can't understand they just loved it. And then what they want us to do is schedule a second screening, and then bring all the secretaries that they could and, and kids if they could enter the screening and wait for the ending and the popcorn go flying. And they laugh. And it was so mad, because at that point was head of distribution of leave at Paramount. And he decided he's going to take this little movie with the name Friday the 13th and no stars, and no apparent, you know, story to you know, to push and open it nationally. And it's like, okay, hold on your seats. I don't, because this could, if this hadn't failed, he might have lost his job. It was one of those. It was one of those like all in moments for him. And as it turned out, he was absolutely right. And he went on to become president of Paramount and do other things.

Alex Ferrari 22:20
But the when I if I remember the release of or studying, going back and studying the release of a Friday the 13th it was it was released widely. But the trailer for it if you just were basically selling the title, and there's some kills. And that was essentially it wasn't a story plot. It wasn't. It was just like it's called Friday the 13th the most terrifying day in the calendar. You know, next to Halloween, if that if that price scarier than Halloween because it's not a it's not a

Sean S. Cunningham 22:55
What I have found is it has universal psychic real estate, you know, people carry around this this thing about Friday 13th And bad luck. And, and it it transcends almost all cultures because every culture, they may not call a Friday the 13th. But they have a day of the year, which is predicated on top ladders and that kind of thing.

Alex Ferrari 23:22
Right! It's all it's all kind of bad luck stuff. Yeah. In Now, going back a little bit, though. When you were you came up with the characters you came up with you were you writing the

Sean S. Cunningham 23:33
Victor Miller, I and and Steve minor and Tom Savini were sort of fixated, I first had this notion of you know, 10 little Indians happening at a summer camp. And and Steve was going to be the line producer. And we're trying to figure out how to get a special effects guy. And we went and that and there's this guy in Pittsburgh, and Savini Gee, can we try to find them track them down and stuff and, and we did and he got in this car was his friend taso and came up to Connecticut. And he was so excited and so psyched to do this. And, and so we're all just working with Yeah, you've got a kid in the woods and he dies. Okay, what happened? And how do you make it scary and how do you shoot it? And and, and, and, and, you know, none of it could have been done? What you know, all four of us really combined to to make it make it happen.

Alex Ferrari 24:46
What a Tom do prior to that, like there wasn't a lot of

Sean S. Cunningham 24:51
Night of the living dead.

Alex Ferrari 24:53
Oh, that's the original?

Sean S. Cunningham 24:54
The original. I think that was that was his only that was his only credit Which, as you may recall, is pretty good credit. Yeah, well now it's a really good credit at the time. You know, what's this? What the hell is this? I want to see sound the music and I am in here.

Alex Ferrari 25:16
So he was just a young kid who's super excited about makeup and Roy, I think that's the movie that essentially launched his career after that he was a very, very busy man in the 80s.

Sean S. Cunningham 25:27
Oh, yeah, he continues to this day. No, he studied with a guy named I believe. I want to say did Clark, Rick Baker, Rick Becker, thank you. And, and he really knew how to do prosthetics and all that kind of stuff. And he wanted to do it. And he told me, he's like, I Have a Dream speech. But his dream was he wanted to chop somebody's head off on camera. You know, so you could really sell that had never been done before. And that Yeah, and so we figured out that, you know, very carefully the staging the blocking for for how we could chop this up. Well, first of all,

Alex Ferrari 26:11
I mean, you essentially ushered in the slasher, the slasher, as we know it, to a certain extent helped help help it help that along without question, and I think it was after Friday the 13th. That's when there was a couple of copycat just a couple of copycats. Chopping wall, Chuck slaughter, slaughter house,slaughter party ,chopping mall, genius! I was watching I watched the trailer the other day, I was like, what I remembered in the thing I remembered in the video store I used to I used to, I used to rent all this stuff, and people would come in and Friday the 13th we're all up there all 450 versions came out. And then you know, obviously Freddy, and all these kinds of that that decade is where all of the the characters that we you know, horror, horror lovers love like the Freddy's the Jason's the Michael Myers. And then then they started to go from there. But those are the original. The originals that came out of it, that whole thing. Now, look, as a director, we always have a day that we feel like the entire world is coming crashing down around us. And that we're that I mean, that's generally every day. But there's always that one day in the project, that you're like, Oh my God, I don't know if we're gonna make it here. Like I can't catch my get my day done or the camera falls into the lake or prosthetic isn't work. What was that? That? Were you? Did you have any of those days on Friday? The 13th? And how did you

Sean S. Cunningham 27:48
I think every filmmaker has had that day. I mean, there may be worst days, but the oh my god, I'll never work again day. Which, you know, you've you thought this movie was going to be set just going to work so well. And you've got as tight as you can. And then you show it to you show it to an audience. You're sitting in the audience. And they're getting ahead of you. And it's not working for this audience. And oh, why did they leave that in? I should have cut it out on what am I going to do? And and then you know, that's sort of like day one, and then you recon and, and try to come up with a movie that that represents what you were doing. But so for you. There's always that screening a screening doesn't necessarily have to be in front of a paying audience. A could can be first studio, it can be for a focus group, but it's one of the you're sitting there with strangers who have nothing invested in the movie. And they're going and what the hell is that?

Alex Ferrari 28:51
Was that empty? Was that ending? Always there?

Sean S. Cunningham 28:54
No, no, the ending was the ending was something that that one of my investors wanted to he wanted to try. And it just seems so stupid. Me This is a reality based 10 Little Indians thing. And I've said I get it. But I don't know how we can insert it into the movie because as it was conceived is she's just there and the thing that was scripted was everything was her on the lake and the police arriving and everything. And then just I don't know where this creature comes up out of the out of the bottom and grabs.

Alex Ferrari 29:43
It sounds horrible. By the way, it says yes, you're explaining a horrible idea.

Sean S. Cunningham 29:47
And it was and and and I said I wouldn't or wouldn't couldn't shoot it until we figured out what Wouldn't what would follow it? What's the epilogue the coda? You can't you can't just end the movie with a punch in the stomach like that it's, you know, no explanations or anything. And once we got the little there's little epilogue with Allison and hospital bed and, and dreaming about the things that happen. Did it happen? Did it not happen and stuff? Like, once you had that, okay, now we have least a place where it could go it might be understood maybe it was a dream, maybe it wasn't. And Sametime Savini just grabbed a hold of that. And he just, he was, he came up with this deformed creature. And, and, and he just and it had to work underwater and had to do all these different things. And and he, you know, he just, he created that. The that that creature that 12 year old boy or whatever it was, are a limb. I've tell you, sir, my son, Noah was supposed to play that role. It was mostly Jason in the lake until his mother found how you are not taking my son and putting them in the ice cold water. That's crazy. Get somebody else and so that that's how we that's how he lost the part in there. He could have held it.

Alex Ferrari 31:28
I'm sure. And I'm sure he was. I'm sure he's given me some somehow over the years over

Sean S. Cunningham 31:32
Over the years. Yeah. But at the time, it was like, Oh, good. I don't have to do it. Jesus that that water so called.

Alex Ferrari 31:38
I mean, he could be signing in conventions right now. Oh, yeah. Well, so so with the that's what one thing that always it's one of those trivia questions is like, who is the killer in the first Friday the 13th? And the wrong answer is Jason. Because everyone always says Jason is Jason's mom, but it's one of those one of those lovely questions. Now also, you know, I'm sure you've seen scream at this way in your life. It was a scream, and a lot of those rules that he put in the movie or Kevin, Kevin Williamson, who wrote it, put in the movie about don't have sex. You know, don't say I'll be right back.

Sean S. Cunningham 32:18
All the horror tropes and

Alex Ferrari 32:20
All the tropes. Many of those started in Friday the 13th Am I wrong?

Sean S. Cunningham 32:27
Yeah. Some of them did. I mean, it's, you know, you got 10 Kids in the woods, and you're going to chop them up. Okay. If they could do, yeah, and, but I think one of the things that happened is that people started to impose a morality on top of it, like, you know, the, the loose girl and, and the, and the pod has, well, they've gotta go, you know, because they're obviously the bad people who are not behaving well. It's a cautionary tale. So we're going to really be rooting for this one girl, but we're going to kill the others, because they're so irresponsible. And that just made makes a bad situation just that much worse. It's just, it's just a bad idea. And, and I think that the, the underlying, scary part of, of Friday, 30s, and things that followed it. I think it came from Jaws, that there's a shot in Jaws, about halfway through the movie, and they've opened the beaches, and it's sunny out, it's Fourth of July or something. And, and there's a shot of the shark going down, and he's looking up and, and he sees nothing but legs, and they're all people and young people and women and men and, and the and he's going to just eat somebody, and it really depends how hungry is it has nothing to do with, oh, I'm going to eat, you know, I'm going to eat that dope, dope smoking jerk, or I'm going to get the tramp or some, no, it can happen to anybody at any time, for reasons which are completely beyond our control. And knowing that I mean, I think that's a core beliefs that we all have. And we need to we have this cognitive dissonance because what we do on a daily basis is deny that anything really bad could happen to us. And on the other hand, there's a part of us that knows it could happen at any moment, the rational versus the irrational, you know, and we're hardwired to ignore it. But nevertheless, it's it's in there. And it's this the dynamic effect fairytales where you look at something that you know, is true, or could be true, and it's really scary. So you've freeze up, but when you see it in the safety of a movie theater, or you know somebody telling you a story about once upon a time You know, you get to be exposed to your father dying or, you know, being abandoned by your parents or whatever it is, that might happen. And, and you see it so many times, and as you see it, you get a little bit numb or a little bit numb, or to the thing that was really so scary to you in the first place. And, and in a way, it's sort of it's establishing value systems. And it's it's a way of teaching you to deal with or saying that there are tough things you have to deal with in life. And you can do it, then you know, and I think that that's, that's my understanding about how how horror films have, you know, a lot of them were at their core, they were fairy tales, that were

Alex Ferrari 35:57
It's cathartic. It's cathartic,

Sean S. Cunningham 35:59
And catharsis. And there's a book by a guy named Bruno Bettelheim, which called the uses of enchantment which really opened my eyes to this. And it's, you know, I, anyway, that's

Alex Ferrari 36:15
You actually answered a question that I hadn't I was about to ask, which was, why do you think these films have lasted the test of time? Characters like Jason and Freddy and Michael, that that we just keep coming back to these these monsters, even jaws? And those kinds of what was about them? What are about these films that people keep watching them, not only again, and again, but keep, like, I mean, obviously, from Friday the 13th there was maybe 234 You know, five big horror movies and obviously, the exorcist and all those kind of movies, which were different. But then the slasher genre, it just kept growing and growing. What is it about that genre of horror that people just kept going back to? And in many ways having fun with because originally, if I remember, Freddy, Friday was terrifying. But then Friday turned into a comedy routine with some more adventure and Jason

Sean S. Cunningham 37:17
I think what I don't think people keep going back to horror films. Because of their horror films, they go back to experience. You know, why does the kid say no, no, read me the readme of the story again from the beginning. And, and don't change it because oh, he doesn't like it when you change it. But you know, from the beginning. I think that some strange strange things happened to Jason and to Freddy and Michael Myers, I think, but he started particularly with Jason and flirty, his you went you went to the movie, for whatever reasons. He's going on a roller coaster. It's like, oh my gosh, oh, my God. Yeah, I went, Oh my God, and you know, and it becomes kind of a fun, crazy event. And then there's another and then you start saying, Okay, let's we're gonna have a softball game. Friday. searchings we're gonna have a softball game. We're gonna choose up sighs Okay, I got the big guy with a mask. Who do you got?

Alex Ferrari 38:27
The big guy with the mask that doesn't die. That guy.

Sean S. Cunningham 38:30
He'll be on my side. Yeah, you can have those for football players no problem. And the I think that I think that there's something in in the transformation of this called JSON pretty JSON, slash or flatten you kind of and that is that it's, it's it's, it's kind of Revenge of the Nerds on steroids. You know, so much of the audience feels like, you know, they did they were allowed to sit at the cool kids lunch table.

Alex Ferrari 39:15
Oh, and all the cool kids are the ones dying leader son.

Sean S. Cunningham 39:18
And the same thing happens in living dead, where you can shoot the principal of the school, if he's got that look in his eye, you know, and, and I, there's just kind of I think nobody's ever said that one for one. But I think that that's the, that's the thing that happens. And so if you're gonna go out and experience that now, it's sort of predictable, like a roller coaster ride where they're gonna be things that are scary and bloody and gory. But you can't scare me know that because I got the big guy on my side. People that you know, you go to a roller coaster ride In six flags or someplace, there's gonna be a lot of people get on a roller coaster. There's a whole bunch of people sitting on the bench. They don't want to get on the roller coaster and they're never going to get on the roller coaster. And and so that this experience is not for everyone. You can't make it for everyone. You're crazy if you think you can, because she can't. There are people that like the roller coasters on people that don't. And liking the roller coaster has to do with those moments where you have no control, you think that you're enormous Jeopardy, but at the same time, you're strapped in and in their bars and harnesses and stuff. But still, there's that moment and you know, and then if you're like a fan, you start, you know, putting your arms up in the air. I'm not afraid of anything. But no,

Alex Ferrari 40:51
I understand. No, but I understand where you're coming from. Completely. You're absolutely right. I've never thought of it that way. But that makes so much sense. Because in a lot of those movies, I don't remember it might have happened, but I don't remember them killing the nerds. It's always you know, the beautiful girl that the big jock. Those people that the cool kids are the ones that go that go first. I remember and I don't remember, many nerds getting knocked out? Because he's like, Well, yeah, it's equivalent of kicking the dog. Like you don't do that. You can get a dog, you can't kick a dog in the movie, because that's the villain. No, I didn't ask you. I do want to ask you, Shawn, after the movie comes out. It's a huge, huge hit. It is one of these, you know, biggest independent films of its day? I'm assuming you get a few phone calls. And how did the town treat you? And why didn't you keep going down that road? You know, as as a filmmaker, because you didn't do the second or third or fourth? Or any other Jason movie? Why didn't you go down that road? Where others have just curious?

Sean S. Cunningham 42:03
Well, if it were to happen again, tomorrow, you know, I I would definitely, you know, ordered my business life differently. But I didn't you know, Friday searching Susie took a bunch of kids in the woods and chopped them up. I didn't want to do that every year. And you know, find, you know, better machetes, and I wasn't what I wanted to do. Friday searching I was, I was naive enough. Like I said, my education took all time to think that, you know, they say, oh, Shawn, you made a really, really terrific hit movie, and we'd love to meet with you. And, and then it would always come around to so what do you want to do next? Now me? I thought Eric comes out. Yeah, I thought that the guy sitting behind the desk, has got a whole filing cabinet full of great scripts. He just hasn't found the right director. And and he's What do you want to do next? And my answer was kind of, I don't know, what do you got? The only thing that the guy sitting behind the desk will see here's, I'd like to do Friday the 13th every year until I die, you know, and oh, and I could have signed up at that point. I had no idea that that was you know, I thought I think I sound a phrase searching this is a sample real kind of she I can drag. You got anything.

Alex Ferrari 43:41
Now let me go back real movies. Yeah.

Sean S. Cunningham 43:44
And I'm gonna have a script supervisor this time.

Alex Ferrari 43:48
I hear they're important. It it's fascinating, because I've had a lot of people on my show over the years, who had these kind of like, lottery ticket moments. I mean, you were one of the you and John and Wes, you had these kinds of lottery ticket moments where you had extremely massive hits. And how you, you know, I've seen a lot of them just go go a different direction. Because like, I don't want to do that for the rest of my life. And every one of them said, If I would have known now, if I would have known then what I know now. Yeah, I would have done at least three or four more. Just just and then retire.

Sean S. Cunningham 44:37
Yeah. Well, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 44:40
But you had it but you had a hell of I mean, you had a hell of a run in the 80s as well. Yeah,

Sean S. Cunningham 44:43
I had I mean, I got a lot I got to make a lot of movies and and, and, you know, the challenge of making any movies you know, it's an it's like climbing a mountain you just get together with a bunch of people you know, Try to do this thing, it's really hard to separate from the content, it's just making movies is really hard. It's really hard work and you and you meet and bond with a bunch of people making movies is making room movies is the fun part of whatever, whatever we do, the rest of the time is spent trying to get the movies made, and that gets sold or sold. Yeah. I would. I know that I know that a number of your viewers are probably film students are people relatively new to relatively new to the business. And he talked about going to film school and so on. What nobody ever tells a film student is you go and you learn about the cameras, and you'd learn up and now you'd learn about certain kinds of media and, and you learn how to make and do all this great stuff. But there are no jobs for you, none, none, nobody's going to hire you to do that. If you really want to do that, what you have to do is along with everything else you've been doing, is learn how to raise money. And, and if and it's very difficult, and until you get a handle on that you're going around you know the script in your under your arm trying to get somebody to give you enough money or to make it for you, and it doesn't happen. It only happens if you find a way and yet being a type A personalities critically think you got to go out and find find a way to get enough money to make it. And if it's $5,000 Do you take your iPhone, you go out or your iPad and you go out and and and shoot it and do the best you can come back and make another one next week. And the week after that we got through that. Because that's the only way you're going to learn learn how to do it. And and nobody's going to give you the money to do it. You have to find and by the way, everybody gets money, different ways, different places, different times. Oh, but that's, that's one of the things that they don't teach in film school. And it's, you know, it's a critical lesson. And you know, you probably more than I but see a lot of people that are talented and they've got great footage and they can't get hired. They can't, you know, they can't break in. And but there isn't a way to break it. There isn't an apprenticeship.

Alex Ferrari 47:40
You know, for for directors is tough for other parts. Yeah. camera department art department.

Sean S. Cunningham 47:46
Yeah, but those yeah, that's, that's a completely other thing. Yeah. And, you know, if you have the, if you have the right bloodlines, for the right genes, you gauge that you can be, you know, a dolly grip, too. But I'm talking about the the, the people that you go to film school, you don't go to film school via grip, you go to be filmmaker, a storyteller and stuff like that. And that's what you have to keep doing. But you're going to be on your own for a long time trying to do that. And if you know that going in, it's it's better than if you don't.

Alex Ferrari 48:22
It's really and I appreciate that, because that's a very wise piece of information there. Because I've come to understand, I heard this the other day, and I thought this was fantastic. And so it's so perfectly defines our industry, which is, it is possible for anyone to direct the movie, but it's not probable. Okay? Because he's like, there's so much work that goes because at the beginning, everyone can make a movie like, oh, it's possible. Yeah. And now more than ever more than in your day, your day to day that was much harder to get a movie off the ground. Now, you could go make a movie for three or five grand, and you can. But the probability of that happening is very small. Because the amount of work, things have to line up, things have to fall into place. You have to be persistent. The perseverance years, like you said, to get things done. And you know, I've been in the business now closing in on 30 years. And that is really the definition of our business because it's possible. Yes, that's what Hollywood sells. Anyone can be a star. Anyone can be a director. Anyone can write a million dollar script.

Sean S. Cunningham 49:36
Oh, forget and nobody knows anything.

Alex Ferrari 49:39
And nobody knows anything. But you you can win. But the probability of you selling a script for a million dollars. How many scripts get sold for a million dollars? Right? A handful. How many filmmakers make a studio movie now? None. Very few young filmmakers make them is very small. So at just thought that was such an interesting and it's a raw, it's a tough pill to swallow, but it is the truth of our business. Would you agree?

Sean S. Cunningham 50:07
Absolutely. It's it's. Yeah, anyone can, but most people, you know, could could get it together to get a movie made somehow. Not likely, like you said, this is not probable, but it's a lot of work. And it has nothing to do with what you learned when you studied making movies. It's, it's an integral part of making movies, that's just ignore him. Thinking about a few things that that, you know, when I, when I talk to people, about the movies, my, I stay away from the technical, technical issues, because I don't know him as well as all the people that do them every day. But it seems to me that there are a few really important things. One is, I'm going to refer to something called your ad, the poster, or, back in the day, we call this the one sheet. But today, it might be the billboard on Sunset Boulevard, or the thumbnail in Netflix or the thumbnail. So what is the thumbnail for your movie? And because what is contained in there? If it's done, right, is the promise of what the movie is, you know, and you. So from day one, you know, what you promise the audience and then you have to deliver on that. But you have to keep coming back to it. You don't think about it later. If you think about this, I read the script and the pages did they just, you know, took all my emotional energy. I just couldn't couldn't stop reading it. Okay, what's the poster? How, you know, how are you going to? How are you going to get people in it? Because what you what you're doing for all intents and purposes is you're you're making this thing, and then you're stopping strangers on the street saying, wait, wait, wait, wait, come with me, please, I want to show you something. And it's a movie and you're really going to, I promise, you're really going to like it, please come with me. And you try to get him to your point and you put them in the seat. And that'll be 15 bucks. And then the guy has to sit there for the next two hours of his life, and leave happy. And that's what we do. And if he doesn't leave happy, you don't get a chance to do it again, or not very soon. And so I think that that's knowing what the poster is, and embracing the fact that you have an audience that is vital to what we do for a living. The other thing that I think gets lost and and that's who do you make a movie for? Who's your audience. And I think the way to approach it is you're creating a gift for somebody. And it's not for you to find yourself, and to work out your anxieties and work out.

Alex Ferrari 53:32
That's an art film, that's an art.

Sean S. Cunningham 53:35
But even when you're not feeling, you know, you you're making it for somebody else, and you want it to be good and you want to be able to give, give it to this other person, or people and they're going to be glad that they got it. And they'll they'll react to the fact that you really did the best you could to create this gift for them. And that is those are that's what you're doing if you're doing it right. And those aren't words you hear very often. But I think they're I think they're really critical.

Alex Ferrari 54:10
Those offensive I mean, those those words, I mean, I've been yelling both of those things from the top of the mountain for quite some time. Now, Shawn, it is something that's so important and filmmakers, they don't they don't think about it. They don't think about the poster. They don't think about the marketing. They don't think how they're going to sell it. And they definitely don't think about the audience. They just think about I want to make this movie I want to put this out there. But if you don't think of who this is for, it's just an expensive art man. It's just not a this is not paint on canvas. This is not writing a book. You know, this is this is expensive art that takes a lot of time, a lot of collaboration, a lot of things to fall into place for it to be done. Period, let alone well because there's a lot of movies made. And then there's this many that are really good and and stand the test of time, for whatever reason is and it is I appreciate you saying that and it coming out of your mouth. Hopefully, people listening will listen,

Sean S. Cunningham 55:07
They hear and wants to anyway.

Alex Ferrari 55:09
But it's interesting, but it's something that needs to be, especially for younger filmmakers or first time filmmakers, they don't understand that I wrote a whole book about that about like, understand your niche audience, understand your audience, and build a product for that audience, build that thing that serve them, and really connect with them. And it's it is something that is not talked about very often. So I do appreciate you saying that. There is one question I always have to ask this.

Sean S. Cunningham 55:38
I need you to go. No offense.

Alex Ferrari 55:40
No, no, no, no, it's not done on us that that kind of answer that that question. But I've always wanted to ask this question. Because you do go to cons. And you go and you sign a cons and, and I've been to MIT, I've signed up some, some cons. I've I've experienced it myself. And I've, I've gone to horror conventions. Earlier, when I had one of my first films and I met a lot of your contemporaries and all that stuff. When you first got called. They say, hey, Shawn, we know when they bring you over to a comic book convention or horror convention to sign what did you think your wedding?

Sean S. Cunningham 56:21
I'd say exactly what I saw. Are you out of your fucking mind?

Alex Ferrari 56:26
You are me.

Sean S. Cunningham 56:27
And when I'm one night was like, that's, you know, if, if you hit 62, homeruns, and a baseball, she's, okay, go sign up baseball. I but I'm just a guy. And, you know, to, to charge somebody for signing something seems crazy. And so I didn't do it. And, and I still I still do. Not many. But I really enjoy it because I get to I get to better understand people that are fans of the genre. And you get it, it's really, it's really kind of good for your it's good to be reminded of the people that are out there. And, and that they're often really nice people.

Comic book and horror that they're such sweet people, most of them I've ever met.

And Wes refer to themselves as wearing urban camouflage. Paint don't, you know, they don't want to stick out and they want to be with their be with people that share their values and their sense of fun and entertainment. But there's kind of a uniform, so that if you are one of them, you Oh, he's our he's our kind of people. And you learn that and I, I like I like interacting with the fans. And it's just, it means so much more to them than it has to be.

Alex Ferrari 58:22
Right. I understand. I understand that completely.

Sean S. Cunningham 58:25
And so I you know, I the notion of selling your signature traits still strikes me as goofy.

Alex Ferrari 58:36
It is a little goofy. And I remember I was at a I was at I think the San Diego Comic Con and I wanted to talk to an actor. And I won't say the name because I'm still a fan. But uh, but I he was just sitting at a booth by himself. There wasn't even an autograph scenario. And I had a statue of one of the characters he played this years ago. And I go, Hey, you know, can you sign this? And he's like, if you want to dedicate it is 275 bucks, if you want it non dedicated is 450 bucks. And I'm like, I'm just a fair match. I just if I'm not selling this, I'm just a fan. He's like, Yeah, that's the price. I'm like, wow. Okay, so there's a dark side to this is what? slumped, but it wasn't even he was just sitting in the corner by himself, like even in an autograph scenario. But it's interesting. It's such an interesting there's a bit there's been documentaries on cones and, and that whole subculture and stuff but I always wanted to ask someone like yourself, what did you think when they first asked you to sign something again?

Sean S. Cunningham 59:40
Yeah, it just seemed

Alex Ferrari 59:42
Looney! Yeah. My name is Mickey Mantle or Tom Cruise.

Sean S. Cunningham 59:46
Right. Right. You know, it's like, do you remember those? There's a TV show East Hollywood Squares. Yeah, I remember. Exactly. Right. And there are individual personalities in each of the boxes right and most of them were famous for being famous not because they didn't need anything you know what was a OJ Simpson's house boy Kato Kaelin he became famous for almost everything in the guest now.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:24
You want to you want to hear a funny side note when I moved to LA my second home was a townhome in Toluca Lake. And I lived across the way from Kate, okay. First, very sweet guy,

Sean S. Cunningham 1:00:39
You went straight to the top.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:41
I mean, I was there, but I arrived right in the middle of now I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my guests. Sean, what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Sean S. Cunningham 1:00:53
The smart answer is Don't quit your day job. But I think that, I think then what this has become, is something that you love to do. And this has to do with acting or directing or any number of different things. And it's quite possible, as you say, to do this with the very limited resources that we have at our at our fingertips. And do it and do it and do it and enjoy it. But and do that in the same way that you might enjoy. I don't know, playing softball with the guys over the weekend. You know, it's something that you can love and enjoy and and be fine. How you can do this thing that would then allow you to support yourself doing it is just, it's, it's possible, but it's not probable. Now, there are going to be people say yeah, yeah, whatever. Alright, what else?

Alex Ferrari 1:01:53
That's not me. That's not me.

Sean S. Cunningham 1:01:55
Right! What What else you got, and I say, well, story story story. And, you know, if you can either write or find somebody that really knows how to write well, and, and then tell stories. And don't think that what you're going to do is get it the first time out, or the second or the third. So what you have to do is, you have to keep making mistakes. And that's how you learn anything is you go out, you try something seems like a good idea, the time you fall down doesn't work, you get up and do it again. And the the amount of time it takes they throw around 10,000 hours. And that's not very long. But to convert the 10,000 hours that I think it takes the even heavier ante in the game, as I say, a writer. You can't go to, you know, Robert McKee over the seminar weekend, and then come home and write a great screenplay. You just can't, you get good guidance, but you just can't do that. When you have to, if 10,000 hours is let's just say you don't know anything about carpentry. You know, you've looked at cabinets your whole life, you know exactly what cabinets look like, but you don't know how to make them. So you apprentice yourself to a master carpenter. And he teaches you and you work really hard, five days a week, and Christmas off. And after four to five years, depending you will have put in your 10,000 hours. And at that point, maybe you can make one of those finely fitted cabinets and know how to stain it. Because that's all you've been doing for the last five years. And it's only five years. I mean, if you did that when you were 17 or 18 years old, you come out at the age of 23 as a filing cabinet maker, and then you then you keep building on that. But there's a great deal of I think there's a great deal of time and effort that has to be put into learning the craft. The art comes at the art comes at the end. And you know 90% of what we do is is a craft and it's like any other craft it has to be studied and learned and you have to do the heavy list lifting and you can't you you can't start as a star.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:30
But that's what the film schools teach you your star kid, right? Yeah, and that's that's the afford. Did you ever see the documentary? Jiro Dreams of Sushi? It was a it was an award winning documentary about this master sushi maker and in Japan like he's a he's the only sushi maker to ever win a Michelin star ever. And when you apprentice with him it's a 10 year commitment. The first four years If you don't touch fish, it's all rice. All you do is cook rice for four years. So you learn how to cook rice properly. And then you begin to start touching fish. After four years. Can you imagine?

Sean S. Cunningham 1:05:18
Yeah, it's Oh, god,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:22
There's such a brilliant, but it's such a great thing. It's like, you know, if you want to be a cinematographer, you just want to get on set and start moving lights around and start moving the camera. But no, you've got to learn so much technical knowledge,

Sean S. Cunningham 1:05:34
And and you only learn it by doing it.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:37
Absolutely can't read about it, you can't watch about it. And

Sean S. Cunningham 1:05:41
I think that, yeah, it's, if you want to make a career out of it, what you must do is sell a movie for more than it costs you to make.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:55
Every time Roger Corman style

Sean S. Cunningham 1:05:56
That way, that way, you get to make another movie. And, and that seems overly simplified. But that's got to be at the core of what you're doing if you're trying to make a career out of it. But you don't have to, you can, you can get yourself a camera and microphone and go, shoot whatever you want, and play with it and come up with all kinds of things, show it to your friends, go to film festivals, all that stuff. And you can let you you know, certain people will come up with, I don't know if it's gonna be great art, but it could be really good stuff. But they're not trying to make a living doing that. You've got to have your day job, or married very well.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:40
That's amazing. Great advice. I've had that. That's some advice I've had on that. Like, I talked to one director. And he was advice you give them like rosemary. Well, that's what I that's what I did. And my wife helps me pay for all my movies. So now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Sean S. Cunningham 1:07:01
For me, it's not learning, but it's one of those things you you tried to do? He tried to do the right thing. Don't always do the right thing. And you nobody goes through life without making mistakes and having regrets. But you stay on the road and you do the next right thing. Everything you did yesterday was yesterday. So and that's I mean, that's that's a lesson to be learned every day. But that's, you know, let's try to do

Alex Ferrari 1:07:33
And last question three of your favorite films of all time.

Sean S. Cunningham 1:07:38
Oh, so they go all over the place but I would say love actually saw the Lion King and maize in jars. He just I remember. I remember seeing the alien. The really Scott original. And that was just so good at what he did. He was trying you know, and he just the all all those were for me homeruns

Alex Ferrari 1:08:13
I can't I can't disagree with any of those choices, sir. They're all excellent choices. John, I appreciate your time. My friend. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It has been such a pleasure and honor talking to you about.

Sean S. Cunningham 1:08:25
Very nice of you to say that I hope I hope you got some we got some time I think we got a couple of you can probably trim this down to a nice tight seven or eight minutes. Appreciate it's really gonna, you know, add some music, a few sound effects

Alex Ferrari 1:08:44
And, and a good kill and then we're good that we then I could sell it.

Sean S. Cunningham 1:08:48
And you can sell it.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:50
Sean, I appreciate you my friend. Thank you for everything.

Sean S. Cunningham 1:08:52
Thank you very much. And we'll talk again I'm sure.

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IFH 626: Creating Hocus Pocus: My Life in Horror and Nightmare Cinema with Mick Garris

I am extremely excited to have on the show today a fellow podcaster, established producer, director, and writer, Mick Garris. Mick’s podcast, Post Mortem with Mick Garris, dives deep into the devious minds of the greatest filmmakers and creators of your worst nightmares to bring their distinctive visions to life in fascinating one-on-one conversations. 

He’s renowned for his classic screen adaptation of Stephen King’s books like Sleepwalkers (1992), The Shinning and The Stand. and creator of 2005, Masters of Horror series.

The California native began his passion for storytelling as early as 12 years old – writing short stories. He launched his passion onto the journalism path at just 16 years old. Driven by curiosity, he freelanced as a film and music critic and landed interviews with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Rod Serling, and Ray Bradbury in the 70s. 

It’s remarkable what Mick accomplished in a time where everyone needed to know someone to get a foot in the door, let alone that early in life and without the help of social media. I guess folks were intrigued by his talent and drive.

While doing film criticism, Mick wrote specs, publications for magazines, and did some filming on 8mm. The guy lived the dream. The hard work began to pay off. His agent, Rick Jaffa read some of his specs, believed in him, and introduced Mick to Steven Spielberg. Mick ended up writing the first episode of the Spielberg sci-fi series, Amazing Stories, and seven other episodes.

He’s credited for writing screenplays like Psycho IV: The Beginning, Fly II, and the She-Wolf of London series. He was also was an editor on Spielberg’s other project, *Batteries Not Included, in which aliens help a feisty old New York couple in their battle against the ruthless land developer who’s out to evict them.

Garris has written and directed a lot of other horror classics such as Halloween comedy favorite, Hocus Pocus. The film follows a villainous comedic trio of witches who are inadvertently resurrected by a teenage boy in Salem, Massachusetts, on Halloween night.

Garris and I talked about his incredibly difficult yet fun experience shooting his small budget directorial debut, feature sequel Critters 2. In the film, Eggs of the small but voracious alien creatures called Crites are left behind on earth and, after hatching, set their appetites on the small farm town of Grover’s Bend.

The man’s contribution to the horror genre has amazing. Can’t wait for you to catch up on my conversation with Mick Garris.

Alex Ferrari 0:15
I'd like to welcome to the show, Mick garris. How you doing, Mick?

Mick Garris 0:18
Great, Alex, thank you for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:21
Thank you so much for coming on the show. Like I was telling you earlier, I was extremely excited that you agreed to do the show because you're you're your own established podcaster as well with with a great show. And you you've interviewed some giants in the business as well. So I was I was humbled that you said Yes, sir. So thank you so much.

Mick Garris 0:42
Well, I'm humbled that I'm able to work with some of my heroes. And it's a pretty exciting thing.

Alex Ferrari 0:48
Yeah, absolutely. So, um, let me ask you, how did you get started in the business?

Mick Garris 0:55
It's sort of a long story. But I had been writing since I was 12 years old, I wrote short stories and all that sort of thing. And, you know, I was born in LA so but no one in my family had any kind of connections to the entertainment business or anything. And so I started out as a journalist, and I interviewed people when I was like 16 years old, like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and stuff in music. That's about right, Bradbury was my first interview, and Rod Serling was my second. So so I was always able to meet my heroes and learn about them, you know, something that was always really important to me was my curiosity. So I was doing film criticism and interviews and writing screenplays on spec and trying to make a go of it. And I finally had some material that made for agents wanting to meet me and maybe work with me, because an agent only wants to represent you if they think they think that it's easy to sell you. If you are a marketable commodity, it doesn't matter how nice a person you are, or you know how well you play with others. But if they feel that they can make money off of you, it's great. So I went through a couple of agents who never really did me any good. And I was, you know, making my living working at Tower Records and that sort of thing. My first job was as a receptionist at George Lucas's Star Wars Corporation, during the first Star Wars. And I actually operated our two D two on the Oscars that year, but I was basically a receptionist. But it allowed me entree to the universal lot and looking at how people made movies seeing Alfred Hitchcock on the lot towards the end of his life. And finally, a an agent named Rick Jaffa, who is now a very successful screenwriter with his wife and partner, Amanda silver. He was an agent at William Morris. And he was the first guy who read my stuff believed in me and actually got my material in front of Steven Spielberg's company. So I was doing publicity. And I'd hire myself to do making of is because it was a lot more affordable than the studio would spend. And it would give me film school on how to take pieces of film and put them together into a narrative, even in a documentary or documentary format. So I did the making of Gremlins, I did the making of The Goonies. And the first, I had an interview show on the Z channel, which was the first pay TV channel in Los Angeles. So I would interview filmmakers, who made the films that were scheduled to come up on the Z channel schedule. And one of those filmmakers was Steven Spielberg. And after we did the show, I mean, I'm doing all the talking here, Alex, but

Alex Ferrari 4:07
don't quote me, please.

Mick Garris 4:09
But after the show, he said, You know, I really enjoyed that. And he doesn't. He didn't usually enjoy all the interviews that people normally ask all the same canned questions and all but there was a shared passion for movies from a similar background as my own. So when I was making the making of The Goonies, on the first day of shooting in Astoria, Oregon, I was setting up the camera man was setting up the lighting and stuff to interview Steven for the documentary. And he said, You must do a lot of these sorts of things. And I said, what nobody should ever say to Steven Spielberg was I'm trying to do less because I'm trying to make a go of it as a screenwriter.

Alex Ferrari 4:56
What I really want to do is direct Steven, right? Yeah.

Mick Garris 4:59
Well I would never say something like that today, however, then he said, Oh, really we're looking for writers for this new show I'm doing called amazing stories. So it turned out, my agent had gotten amblin, a spec script of mine called uncle Willie, that is still never been made. But I got to read the coverage that they did in the last three words of the coverage were higher this man. So Stephen called me and asked me to, to write the first episode of amazing stories that was ever written. And I wrote it in three days. I mean, it was like a call from Steven Spielberg. And I'd

Alex Ferrari 5:42
love to do it. And by the way, for everyone listening, it's Steven Spielberg at circa what 8485.

Mick Garris 5:48
This was in 1985 85. So

Alex Ferrari 5:51
it's post, et and everything else he did prior to that. So he's already Steven Spielberg. He's been Steven Spielberg for quite some time. So it's like, basically, a god coming down from Mount Olympus and touching you on the shoulder and go, you now shall right.

Mick Garris 6:06
So yeah, I mean, we get a phone call. And I pick it up and Steven Spielberg calling from Mackerras and I'm looking at my wife and our little crackerbox house in the valley. And then they asked me to adapt, write a screenplay based on one of his two paragraph story ideas for amazing stories. And I knocked it out in three days. And they read it and asked me to do another one. And then a day and a half into it. I'm only halfway through. And he and Kathy Kennedy called me to ask me if I would go on staff as the story editor. And I had never done anything like this before. And so suddenly, I'm in $100,000, a year job back in 1985. Oh, and I was, I was on food stamps, when I got the job, also. So it's a convoluted story, but that's how I got my first writing job.

Alex Ferrari 7:04
So and again, not a bad first job. And no as, as first jobs go, not too shabby, not too shabby. So, which, by the way, which were you I mean, I loved. I was obsessed with amazing stories when it came out. I watched. I mean, my favorite one. I still remember to this day. I mean, obviously the Kevin Costner one was fantastic, which we think was the first episode, wasn't it? Steven directed that one.

Mick Garris 7:29
It was the second season the first episode,

Alex Ferrari 7:33
that one and I remember the train. I think Stevens did the train. Both of those. Yeah, right. I remember those two. But my favorite amazing story besides when Santa's got arrested, which was fantastic. Was the episode where the kid had the goo that you poured it on a picture and the picture came to life and right he was like a horny college kid. And he just was trying to get this girl on and you would get half a girl or too big of a girl and right. It was like trying to get it perfectly. Whoever kissed the girl first it was it was theirs forever. It was it was just obviously because was such a dream for any adolescents. And adults, obviously. And I love the ending of that. I'll never forget it. Sorry, spoiler alert for everybody. But it just spills onto Fangoria magazine or something like that. And it just fades to black. It was like, Oh, that's amazing. But I remember that show. So well. I guess I mean, that experience. I mean, it must have listened starting at that level must have. I didn't say Jay, did you what you understood later on that it's not all like that, like that was kind of like the red carpet.

Mick Garris 8:42
Right. But I was also 33 years old when it happened. So I had been writing for years and years and years. Like I said, since I was 12 years old is when I first seriously started writing. And so I've never gotten jaded about it, you know, the excitement of being able to do what you dream of doing. A lot of people get spoiled by it, and expect their lives to continue to be at the top of the heap. I'm always concerned that I'm gonna fuck it up. And you know it every time especially directing every time I I do it, I feel like it's my first time out and that I've got a lot to prove and, and being contemporary and being aware of the technology of filmmaking as it as it metamorphosis sizes. But as far as writing goes, writing has always been I'm a rather fast style writer, in that it comes easily to me and I love it. And I'm just lucky to have been born with a facility for writing and, and I I'm good with language and stories come to me quickly. I mean When I'm writing on spec, which is almost all the writing I do, I just sit down on page one, I don't do an outline or anything, I have an idea. And then I just plow into it and let the tributaries take me where as they will.

Alex Ferrari 10:14
But when you say that, and I've heard other various other screenwriters say the same thing, but do you agree that, you know first for screenwriters just starting out? You're able to do that, because you've been writing forever. So the structure and the you already almost instinctively know how to structure the story in a screenplay from stage one when you don't have the outline? But from somebody who's just starting out, would structuring them outline makes sense?

Mick Garris 10:41
Well, I think it depends on the writer, every writer works differently. And for me, I started out that way. Because I'd been writing but not writing screenwriting, I've been writing short stories in the leg for a while. But I've always watched movies and television my whole life. And I think that there's an intuition that grows within you, as you consume. Screen storytelling. So when you're writing on assignment, you have to do those steps, you do a treatment, and then you do an outline, and then you do a draft. And then because every step of the way, you're going to get interference from the studio executives, from the director, if you're not the director, and all of those sorts of things. So every way is valid for me. I used to think Wouldn't it be great if I took six months to write a script, think how good it would be. And for me, if I took six months to write a script, that means I'm having trouble and it's, it's labor, it's not, it's not coming out, like the magic, it's not storytelling, it's a job. And so I am lucky to be able to write quickly and and Lee and fairly simply, but, again, on the jobs where it's an assignment, then you have to take each step at a time. And then it's never your own unfiltered storytelling, you know, you're going through the hands of a lot of other people.

Alex Ferrari 12:12
Now, do you start with plot or with character, like when you sit down? Are you Do you already have a plot in your head? Or are you starting with the characters like, let's see where this guy or this gals adventure goes?

Mick Garris 12:23
Well, it's kind of half and half, I'll usually start with a character. And of course, every character you write, I tend to write my fiction, even I write books as well. A lot of my fiction is written in the first in the first person, and when you're writing a screenplay, every character is the first person. So they're always some facet of who the writer is, or who he or she imagines he is, or would like to be. It's, it's just a matter of empathy. And usually, I'll have an idea of a character who is some what thwarted in his life, whether it's romantically or ambitions. You know, there's there's a roadblock, and that roadblock is part of what the story is. And then I'll take a combination of who that character is and why his his quest is not an easy one.

Alex Ferrari 13:21
Now, when you said earlier that you you know, you shot a lot of making of documentaries of films, like the thing in Goonies and yeah, is it Gremlins as well? Yeah, so you're on the set with, you know, a Rogue's gallery of some of the most amazing directors of their generations. What were some of the biggest lessons you learned from just just being there and watching their process day in because as I'm making up, you're there every day shooting? What's going on?

Mick Garris 13:54
If you're lucky with the budgets we had, I was there for a couple of days or a few days out of the production schedule. But surprisingly, the thing I learned most is how much of the movie is directed off the set the conversations with the production designer with a dp with the actors, all of those things, you're really seeing almost the finished product when you are on the set and watching them work. That said, watching how a director elicits a performance from an actor. You know, the lighting is already been planned out. The shots in general have been planned out depending on what the director style is. But the job of a director is to communicate. And a writer doesn't have to be very communicative. They're very different disciplines. A writer is monastic and own and mystic in a way, where as a director is confronted with being a social animal, he has to be able to To communicate, not only communicate what the overall movie is, so that each department head and each actor isn't making a different movie choice, but to be able to instill enthusiasm and confidence and excitement that they're doing something special, and to be encouraging people, whether they're cast or crew to do their best work, because they're going to make something really special together. And, you know, there are directors who are directors because they enjoy being autocratic. They like to be the boss, and they like to throw their weight around. Nobody's going to do their best work for somebody who yells at them. You get their best work by being a teammate and somebody who encourages the best ideas from every department, even if it's craft services. Somebody from craft Services has a good idea. I'll take it, you know?

Alex Ferrari 15:54
Yeah, absolutely. Not you, you. Your first Is this your first feature or one of your first features that you wrote? was called Batteries not included? Which Yeah, I have an absurd absurd love for because I remember it. I remembered it and everyone listening, please forgive me back in my video store days. When I was there, renting it out and recommending it to people. And it was a Steven Spielberg produced film. I remember you also co wrote that with a another. He's done okay for himself, Brad Bird, as well. Yeah. So how was it like coming up with that it was very cute, just adorable. It's just like an adorable.

Mick Garris 16:34
Well, it's, it's what Spielberg was known for in the day. So that story was originally an amazing stories episode called Gramps and Grammy and company. The idea was Stevens, he wrote out a paragraph or two. And then I wrote a screenplay for the TV show. And then he changed his mind and said, I think this idea is big enough for a feature film. So I wrote the feature film script, I wrote two or three drafts. And And then, when Steven brought in Matthew Robins to direct Matthew Robins brought in Brad Bird with whom he had written before. In fact, the first script I wrote for amazing stories was the magnet kid. And Matthew Robins directed that and he brought in Brad Bird. So I didn't write with Matthew or Brad. As you know, when it's a writing team, there's an ampersand between your names. And if you're writing and rewriting somebody, there's an and between your names. And I've been lucky enough to be the first writer on virtually every movie that I'm a screenwriter and not a director on. So yeah, it was very much Stephens idea. And Matthew Robins had co written Stephens first movie, the Sugar Land Express. And so he felt very, very beholden to him and gave Matthew an opportunity to do a big Hollywood studio picture, which worked out really well for him. But yeah, it started and ended with Steven Spielberg,

Alex Ferrari 18:15
as it as it always does. I mean, I've had the pleasure of speaking to some amazing filmmakers and writers on this show. And I cannot and I say this all the time, I cannot believe the the the Spielberg touch, he has touched so many careers, of filmmakers. I had john Lee Hancock on I had Kevin Reynolds on and they were telling me something like I had no idea that that that Spielberg was the one that kind of crack the door open for them. And he's, he's done that for so so many people around this, this business. It's, it's remarkable a truly truly is.

Mick Garris 18:57
It's kind of what he wanted to do with amazing stories. Yes. Get Martin Scorsese, and Clint Eastwood and you know, mucky muck directors. But he also gave first time opportunities to people like me, and Todd Holland, and Leslie linka glatter. And Kevin Reynolds, you know, directed one of the episodes. So, he really wanted it to be kind of a flower box for for new blooming directors and, and it was an opportunity you don't often get,

Alex Ferrari 19:30
yeah, and he's just, it just never ceases to amaze me the influence that that Stephen has had on on Hollywood history, not only for himself, but the opportunities he's given to so many people along the way. It's been pretty remarkable. I have to say that you're I think it was your first directorial film, critters too. Now, the time was classic, the time is close. So obviously, there were questions left over from critters, one that needed to be addressed. In a sequel, obviously,

Mick Garris 20:01
it was an absolutely necessary sequel that the world could not have lived without, until it came out. And opening night I went to my local theater in Universal City, and there were three people in the audience.

Alex Ferrari 20:15
So, how did you I mean, listen, I remember I remember critters do I remember critters? It was obviously after after Gremlins, so it was kind of like write a spin off of Gremlins. And there was to be charitable, it was a spin off, it's actually to be but to be fair, to be fair, there was one that was even a little bit more ghoulies was even actually a little little less, less connected to the original

Mick Garris 20:42
material. That's for sure. There's spooky there's ghoulies there's all kinds of little creature movies out there

Alex Ferrari 20:49
after Gremlins. Yeah, but so it was what it was your first shot directing really wasn't it?

Mick Garris 20:54
Well, I directed an episode of amazing stories, right. And before that, I directed, wrote and directed a Disney TV movie, which was my very first a one hour movie called fuzz bucket. That was a story that Steven rejected for amazing store.

Alex Ferrari 21:11
Fair enough. So well, kritis was, but that was, but it was a sequel. It was, you know, it was had a decent budget, if I remember,

Mick Garris 21:19
well, you know, for what we were doing. Your original critters was much better than anybody expected it to be. It was a $2 million movie, which, for a little indie, little creature movie was not insubstantial. And it was mildly successful at the box office, but made most of its money on home video. And so they decided, Well, time for critters to. And I think the reason I was hired, and Bob Shea, who was the head of new wine, gave me the opportunity to do this for four, which I will always be indebted. But David to he had written a script. And he was very happy where it was Bob Shea felt that it needed more. And rather than just hire another writer, the idea was to hire a writer, or director. So it would be a much easier game to to actually have the shooting script done by the director. And I believe that because kritters was very spielbergian in it's in the first movie and even more so in the second that they wanted an associate of Steven Spielberg, so maybe some of his pixie dust would rub off on the project. And because stylistically, you know, I absolutely was influenced by Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante in the making of critters to and by Warner Brothers cartoons and all those things. But the idea of Norman Rockwell goes to hell is something that fits very, very well into the Spielberg canon. And I think that's what they were looking for at New Line. You know, it was a PG 13. It wasn't an R rated horror movie. And, you know, we got away with one naked lady and some some critter violence that wasn't too incendiary. But yeah, it was an opportunity to be both writer and director. And it was on a scale that I thought was so manageable. However, it was special effects, kids, animals. You know, they had a

Alex Ferrari 23:30
trifecta.

Mick Garris 23:31
Yeah, action scenes, all this on a $4 million budget. And with that $4 million, we built the town, we did all kinds of amazing things. So we got a lot of bang for the buck. But, you know, Gremlins was made for $10 million. And Gremlins two was made for $60 million. So

Alex Ferrari 23:52
$60 million of Gremlins two cost. I think so I think that's a lot for that time period. That's it.

Mick Garris 24:00
It definitely is. But it came well after the first one. So

Alex Ferrari 24:04
yeah. Wow, that's remarkable. Now after krytus, two, you jumped on to another sequel, writing from from another successful another successful first film the fly, which is arguably a you know, classic at this point. And I would say so yeah. I love that film with a passion. Oh, God. And I mean, Jeff Goldblum in that kind of made Jeff Goldblum like that. And, I mean, Jeff had been acting for a while but that's I mean, I remember when that came out. Everybody was talking about the fly was like in his Cronenberg in you know, in his element of is fantastic. Now you pick then, of course, you get dawn, the daunting task of writing the sequel to a very successful loved film. How did you write Roche writing a sequel to such a hit

Mick Garris 24:50
very differently than what you see in the movie that that has, that was made. You know, I was the first writer on that and I came up with an idea I wanted it to be as respectable as the Cronenberg film. I Cronenberg is a friend, I love his work to death, and the depth and intelligence and humanity of that movie was something you rarely get any genre film, especially a monster movie, which, when you come down to it, it's that's what it is. But it's so much more than that. It's a romance. It's an impossible romance, which is a theme I really like and return to time and again, in my own work, fiction and film work. But so my idea was something quite different. It had to do with giving the baby up for adoption, because you know, she was going to have an abortion. But the original idea was that it would be an evangelistic group that takes the baby from her, as they do with other young mothers who don't want to abort, give it a good Christian household, but they are training it and all these other children in the way that in the Soviet Union in Russia and the 30s, they did lots of experiments where they would exercise children, mentally and physically to be far beyond the powers of mortal men and women. They would develop their psychic abilities, they would give them Olympic Training from from toddlerhood on, so that they would become superheroes, basically in reality. And, you know, I wanted it to be a Christian army sort of thing. So it was a really interesting, adult kind of attitude. But the head of the studio, wanted a teenage monster movie. First, Scott Rudin was our our production executive. And he's great and has gone on to produce a bunch of really high end movies for the Coen Brothers for lots of other people, has run into some metoo issues in the last year or two. But there was a change in management and wondered Goldberg, who was half of spelling Goldberg, the people who made The Love Boat and other TV shows, letter, Goldberg was named the head of the film studio, which was very controversial at the time, because he'd only done television and not features. And when a Goldberg wanted a teenage monster movie, so there was a lot of infighting between Scott Rudin and Leonard Goldberg. And I was, you know, in the middle, and trying to accommodate both masters and the opportunity, the author of critters two came to me. And so I had to leave had to leave the project to fly to which was in the middle of all those problems. Then Frank Darabont inherited all of those problems. Frank Darabont was the second writer and then Jim and Ken wheat, who had done it young Indiana Jones and some other things. They were the final writers on it. So it changed quite a bit from where I was and where it ended up.

Alex Ferrari 28:11
And Frank and also Frank did okay, as well, I think he's done. All right. He's done it. He's done. He's done. I think he's done a couple other things. I'm not sure what but he's done wonderful. things as well. Now, another film that you directed, which you didn't write, but you directed, and arguably was one of my favorite films. Growing up in the horror genre was sleepwalkers, I absolutely adored sleep walkers. And not just because it was it was just a cool, I must have been I was in high school, probably when that came out. So I'm dating myself, but I was probably around high school time when that came out. And I had the largest crush in the world on match anomic I mean, you're not alone. It wasn't just me, I'm sure. But I mean, holy cow. She was amazing. I just adored her, and then forgot the lead actress named who's also in the palace, Krieger. Yes, it was also a Blue Lagoon and charmed and Brian Crowe. Brian. Yes. broadcast. Thank you. Let's return to the Blue Lagoon. Yes, return to the blue the good. And then he went on to charmed and all that now it's kriega from ghost story. Yes, exactly. It's, it was remarkable. But you wrote an A you directed an original screenplay by Mr. Stephen King. Not too shabby. A writer himself. And he doesn't. I don't think he does. He I think this is one of the this was an original screenplay that had nothing to do with original material. So it was an

Mick Garris 29:42
original, his first original screenplay to be produced. Correct. And what was the slide? Oh, yeah. Well, I never met him until I screened it for him afterwards, but we would talk on the phone. And he was incredible. I mean, we've since become very good friends that have worked together a lot. And I'm lucky enough to have had four projects that he wrote the screenplays for himself. sleepwalkers was the first one. It was also my first studio movie as a director, and really my only studio movie as a director, feature film, all of the other stuff I've done has either been television or independent. And then after that, I mean, we got along so great. And he was so happy with how sleepwalkers turned out. And the battles that we had to fight together, that he asked me to do the stand the next year. And I had only done movies of a relatively small scale. And then along comes the stand, which is 100 shooting days, six states 126 speaking roles. I mean, always on the road. Just Yeah, massive and and that experience was also my first experience with an unmitigated success. sleepwalkers opened as number one in the movie theaters in America that year, that week, but dropped out very quickly. The stand became the highest rated miniseries ever. The four nights it ran, it was number 123 and four that week, but each of the nights went up. It was 50 million people watched it in North America each night. But it went up each of those four nights, which is very rare. And, you know, it was it was incredible to have made something first of all with Stephen King. But secondly, that cast I mean, Gary Sinise and Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis and Matt frewer. And Rob Lowe, and, you know, so many people, but also to go into a supermarket and hear people talking about it the next day. You know, see, it's not something that happens very often. And you know, nothing I've done ever reached the heights of what the stand did. Well, except Hocus Pocus.

Alex Ferrari 32:08
Yeah, well, we'll get we'll get to Hocus Pocus on Reddit,

Mick Garris 32:11
which was actually written eight years before it was made. Right. My draft Anyway, there are 11 other people on it after me. But we'll get to that. But to to have your work talked about when nobody knows that I was the guy who directed it. And I'm standing in a supermarket line listening to people talking about how much they enjoyed it is an experience that is so odd and wonderful and thrilling.

Alex Ferrari 32:40
Yeah, I mean it. When I have guests on the show who have had obscene success, and a project, I always ask them what it's like to be in the, in the center of the hurricane when it comes into that kind of stuff. And for you it was the stand. And you know, 50 million plus people watching your work in the night in the 90s on television. Yeah, is something it is a major deal within the Zeitgeist. It was in the Zeitgeist wasn't it?

Mick Garris 33:10
It was and still is, you know, people still talk about it with the remake having just been done last year. It's amazing. And yet, because it happened on television, probably more people saw it than anybody saw any movie in the theater, but it's television. It's immediate, and then it's gone. It comes back on home video, but it's gone. So Spielberg wanted King and myself to do a movie with him together that King wrote called Rose Red, which became a mini series later when King and Spielberg couldn't agree on the direction it went. There was an 800 pound gorilla on each side. It was about

the size two juggernauts the 50 pound champion the wearing a banana suit, yes.

So, you know, because it didn't happen in a theatrical film. It's not the same as being in the eye of a hurricane. If your movie is in theaters and number one week after week after week, there it's a totally different thing. Plus, it's not the director, especially in television who is brought attention to and in this case, Stephen King not only produced it, but he wrote the screenplay himself. And so I've always been under the wing of either Steven Spielberg or Stephen King or any other Steve's you can think of but, but which is fine, but it doesn't bring attention to the person who is not the famous person on board. And, you know, I'm happy to be a guy behind the camera anyway. But, but career moves, you know, the this Rose Red project never happened. So I Didn't direct for another three years after having directed this massive success. So

Alex Ferrari 35:05
insane, that's insane. But to be fair, you know, being under the wing of either Stephen King or Steven Spielberg, not again, not a bad place to be in,

Mick Garris 35:13
I wouldn't change it for anything. luckiest guy I can imagine.

Alex Ferrari 35:18
It is it is pretty remarkable. And I know so many people are trying to break into it's like larceny, we're trying to break into the business. It's always like, I had a hacky, and I got a break, and I gotta get through the back door. Like it's, it's always something along those lines. Talking, and I'm sure you've come across this to talking to the people you've had on your show is things that happen a lot of times, it's just the right place, right time, kind of its right place. right time. There's, and all you could do is prepare you were waiting for 33 when when Steven showed up, and but you would have been preparing for that moment. All your life, essentially, yeah,

Mick Garris 35:55
it's not only right place and right time, but it's also the ability to deliver what people were looking for. And to be a person that people want to work with. Again, you know, if I were a producer, looking for a screenwriter, and I had some egomaniac pitching me in my office and telling me how to do things in the white, I no matter how good the story is, I don't know that I'd want to go through that process. But, you know, it's it's the ability to deliver to, you know, I was very lucky in that. At the time, I was confronted with Steven Spielberg, and I'm interviewing him on location for The Goonies, they were looking for something that I was capable of delivering, and that they saw, at the same time, my agent had sent to his people, a spec script to read. And so while I'm in Astoria, Oregon, while Steven Spielberg is in a story, Oregon, someone in Universal City is typing up coverage, saying they should hire this guy that he just spent time with. And, you know, the timing could not have been more fortuitous. And the good news was, there was material to back it up. That didn't come from me, but came from his development, people saying, take a look at this guy, we you should hire him. And I happened to be in front of him the day before he got.

Alex Ferrari 37:23
Now would you agree? You know, you've been in this business a long time. I've been in it over 25 plus years, you know, hacking away as well. I've dealt with people, the best advice I could give anybody trying to get into this business is don't be a dick. And I think that I think that is a mantra that a lot of filmmakers and screenwriters don't understand and you are a personification of it. Because it was because of you being so you know, you're able to work and connect with people like Steven, that he hired you again and hired you again. If you were if you were a dick, and that first that first pilot that you were writing the first episode you were writing at Kathy Kennedy and Stephen would have called you up like, do you want to be a story editor? And if that experience wouldn't have gone? Well, there's no batteries not included in your career could have gone on a completely different trajectory. Just by being obviously you have that talent and being able to provide the service that you said, you can write that nice is really something that a lot of screenwriters don't they underestimate how important because would you as a as a filmmaker and a producer, work with someone who might be slightly less talented or experienced, but wonderful to work with, as opposed to a much more superior writer, but just a complete ass? Well, no, I'd probably write it myself. But it's a general.

Mick Garris 38:47
Yeah, but no, that's probably true. I mean, I'd much rather write with somebody being if it's for me to direct. I'm going to write the last draft anyway. Sure. But yeah, you want to work with people who you respect their talents and their abilities, as well as being able to sit in a room and bounce ideas back and forth and have a good time doing it. You know, everything about making movies is incredibly difficult. And so the more fun you can have doing it, often it reflects now, it is often said that the hardest movies to make are the ones that come out the best. And that's not really true. And you can feel the camaraderie of of when a creative group is clicking with one another. But another thing about about screenwriting, is that spelling matters. It is literary, you know, it's, yes, it's a blueprint. And the the extreme example of that is Walter Hill shooting script for alien, which is just so spare and sparse and all but also, if you're writing a screenplay. You're not just laying down a blueprint. And first of all, you're not telling a director how to direct his shots. You know, that's not part of the job. But you are engaging the reader in the same way you would engage the reader of a novel, you want the descriptions, not only to just be guy goes in store sneezes, buys a box of Kleenex, you know, you, you want to embroider it with language that compels you. And it's not just strictly a schematic, which a lot of people feel it is. So being able to write well, writing fiction is a really good practice for writing screenplays, too, you know, Stephen King, you want to turn every page because he engages you, the humanity of his prose, the, you know, he writes very sparsely. But it is woven in such a way that it compels you to turn the page. And a screenplay needs to do that, too. It doesn't. It's not there just for an actor to mark in yellow marker, his dialogue, and not read the descriptions scenes in the scene in between. But those descriptions have to be compelling, they have to be interesting, and they can't just be nothing is harder for meter action movie script, where you're describing lots of action scenes in detail. I can't do it, I can't get through it. But, you know, anything that draws the reader in, whether it's fiction, or or screenwriting is the most important thing, you know, if, if, if writing had never been invented, if a camera came first, no one would have ever invented the written word. To take it down to, to cast it into history. But we have developed an ability to tell stories in engaging ways and the use of words. And grammar matters if I'm reading a script, and the first five pages have 42 typos and your and your are used improperly and things like that, I feel like I'm reading someone who is an amateur. And you want something that is more compelling than that.

Alex Ferrari 42:27
And also I have heard it referred to as the sea of white, you want that page to be a sea of white as much as you can be yet. But yet, especially in the descriptions, and I've said this many times on the show, I equate it to being a haiku, you got to really get a lot of information in with very sparse words. But you have to make it interesting for the reader, the shooting script could become something else. But the actual script that a reader reads a producer reads as a direct reads has to be that kind of thing that pops, but you can't, you can't spend

Mick Garris 43:00
it by, okay, go ahead and give you a description but make it captivating. You know, make it funny, make it really propulsive, you know, and I tend to fully capitalize important words in a script, whether it's introducing a new character or not, you know, I will make sure that you don't miss those important words they stick out.

Alex Ferrari 43:22
Right? It's it's, you don't have the luxury of writing a page on how that tissue feels. Right? where a lot of I've read a lot of scripts that do that, that the writer just like sits there and like, it's a 240 page script. Okay. You know, it's it's though,

Mick Garris 43:40
I'll tell you a story about Batteries not included. This, I felt my life was on the line. This was the biggest opportunity anybody had given me write a feature for universal and amblin and Steven Spielberg. My first draft was 140 pages. And beefy. Yeah, very. So I turned it in Ohio. It was a while before I heard back from Stephen. And then, you know, he called me into the office and I'm being dead honest here in painful ways. But he said, You know, it took me three sittings to read this script. And that's not a good thing. So but that was the best thing anybody could have said to me, and he did it. Because he wanted me to learn. He wasn't criticizing me. But he was telling me I'd fucked up. And so I took it to heart and I took it home. And I worked on it. I worked on brevity and I tightened it up and made it much better brought it in at 110 pages, and it got the green light. So I had learned my lesson, and it's a lesson that has stuck with me ever since.

Alex Ferrari 44:54
Now, you also worked with Stephen King, on the shining mini series, which is has a lot of being the shining. movie adaptations have a lot of lore behind it because of Stanley Kubrick's version and, and Steven, Mr. King finally came out and said, I despise it. I hate what he did with it. And I think that just two different things. I mean, Steve Stanley just did what he wanted with the material. Well, Kubrick did a Kubrick film and right not a king film,

Mick Garris 45:25
not a kenotic King film. And there's a big difference between them as artists. Kubrick is very cool. And King is very warm. The writing is all about the humanity. But also it's a very personal book to King. When he wrote it. He was a drinking alcoholic. And it was all about alcoholism and the guilt he felt for actually hurting his child breaking an arm of the character of jack Torrance, his child in a drunken rage. And so here he is recounting something that's personal to him. I I'm sure he never broke one of his son's arms. But, but he knew that there was a boiler that was gonna blow inside of jack Torrance, because he'd been in that boiler too. And so Kubrick turned it into something very chilly and very Other than that, and it became an iconic horror movie. But it was not a good adaptation of a Stephen King book. And that novel is one of my favorite novels of all time. And the good news was that Stephen King himself what after the success of the stand, ABC said to King, what do you want to do next? Anything you were all there? And he said, you know, I'd kind of like to do the shining like the book. And he wrote the script himself. And it's one of the best scripts I've ever read and certainly ever had my hands. And so because we had done so well with the stand together, and become friends on that, he trusted me with this three years later. And we were able to do something really special with that, too.

Alex Ferrari 47:03
Yeah, it was, it was remarkable. I love watching both versions and seeing the distinct differences between between your version and Stanley's version. And they live as different pieces of art in different ways. There's no glare on the same shelf in the video store. If we may go back to kids or kids just Google video store, you'll see it Yes. Very, very cool. Now, there was a there's a project or a film that you wrote that I don't think you thought and please correct me if I'm wrong, I didn't think you would think it would have the legs that has has had, nor the the love that has come from it. It was just Hocus Pocus. It's become this classic Hollywood Halloween film, but it's a Halloween family film. It which is pretty,

Mick Garris 47:57
which is pretty amazing to hit the you know, it was not particularly successful. Whatever came out, it was a very mild success, right. But over time, and it really started with the Disney Channel. They started running it on Halloween, and then ABC started doing it. And every year it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And people keep asking about a sequel and all that that's finally about to start production, right. And the merchandise. It's the biggest Halloween movie in history.

Alex Ferrari 48:31
And bigger even bigger than Halloween.

Mick Garris 48:34
Yeah, I would have guessed. You know, on, on Halloween day on free form, they show it back to back 12 times on that day. And every day of the month of October they show it

Alex Ferrari 48:47
and my children finally just watched it. They're not there. They're young. They're young girls. And we watched it on Disney plus, because it came on Disney plus and we watched it and I hadn't seen it probably since the video store days. It's just I see clips in it, but I hadn't seen and I said they're like what is so much fun. It's just like a fun and like, Oh my god, they're making a sequel and they're all coming back. Oh my god.

Mick Garris 49:11
Yeah, great. Well, and it's it's again, I was hired to do that because I was working with Steven Spielberg at the time. And the producer, David Kirschner who came up with the idea designed all the characters and everything had just done an American tale for Spielberg and amblin. So it was to Spielberg guys getting together with, you know what Disney wanted. And at first, Steven was interested in being a part of it, that it was like, oh, with Disney. Now we're going after the same audience and they were very competitive at that time. So it was almost a collaboration with with Spielberg, Disney and sorry, my gardener is

Alex Ferrari 49:55
it's all good. It's all good. It's all good.

Mick Garris 49:57
It's not to me, but that's it. Thank you But, yeah, it's amazing to hit with something that you go out on Halloween night and you see children dressed as Billy butchers and the Sanderson sisters, and they carry their big book, you know, the book of spells. And it's like, I helped create that thing. You know, this thing exists partly because of me. And it. It's really humbling.

Alex Ferrari 50:28
Yeah, it's something that just lives on and on and on. And you've, you know, you've been a part of things that that have shelf life, I think Hocus Pocus arguably, is the is the thing that holds like it's just hold, it's been going on and on and on, and on and on.

Mick Garris 50:43
Absolutely, absolutely. in it. You know, I have had the fortune of having worked on things that were not successful initially, that became either cold favorites are much more successful in their afterlife than in their first lives, you know, critters to shows in theaters and festivals every Easter and on television and stuff. It's one of the few Easter horror movies and you don't see critters one revived, you see critters to revive. And psycho for was only on Showtime when it came out. And you know, it was written by the same guy who wrote psycho one. And, you know, it has developed a love and the stand. Huge, and it still maintains its its power and to be able to create something. Popular culture is very much of its moment. It's not meant to last forever. But fortunately, I've been involved in some projects that have had a very long shelf life and a shelf life that continues to grow. And so maybe it's better to have flops, that becomes

Alex Ferrari 52:00
I mean, the residual payments become better later, I guess.

Mick Garris 52:03
Yeah, I wish. You know how residuals work. They shrink every time.

Alex Ferrari 52:08
I know. But is it like Seinfeld? Where you get a penny? You get 1000 checks that are petty? Yes. Yeah. And the stamps are more. Yeah, that's something that a lot of a lot of writers think that. I think and I'd love to hear what you think about it, because I think things have changed so much over the last 10 years is you mean before I mean, I've known a lot of people in the gills and that get those residual checks. And they do get smaller every year. And but then it boosts up when a new new release comes out. Like oh, it just hit HBO. Okay, great, Greg, okay, just a video. But in nowadays, with streaming and everything, it's not what it was once before. So I think a lot of young writers coming into like, Oh, I gotta get that sweet, residual residual money. Like we're gonna live in the life like Seinfeld and friends. And I'm like, I don't think that even exists anymore. I think that's that, that kind of residual, like, I mean, for instance, those guys, oh,

Mick Garris 53:05
yeah. pay TV and theatrical and that sort of thing. And network television broadcast, cable television, those residuals live on. But in streaming, you know, Netflix doesn't pay residuals, even for their original programming. So you got to make a big deal upfront. But I don't know what I would do if I were a new filmmaker starting out, because there are movies made by filmmakers you would know and films you've seen, and that you know, that you like, that are familiar, where those filmmakers can't make a living off of what they get paid to make them for. You know, it's in the world of streaming, it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. You know, who knows, from a little thumbnail on amazon prime, if it's good, or if it's not, and, you know, Netflix will produce movies that they don't promote, and just say, let's see what happens, see if they hit. Or they'll make something like birdbox, which connects in a big way. But the residual thing, you know, if you want to write or make movies, you have to do it out of a passion, and out of a true desire to to be a creative force. Because if you do it to make money, you're in the wrong business. Anybody who sets out to make money making movies is in it for the wrong reason, and they're not gonna make it

Alex Ferrari 54:33
right. What's that saying? How do you how do you become a millionaire in in the film business? Start with a billion. Yeah. It's, it's, it's so true. And I've had so many so many filmmakers over the years come to me like Well, yeah, you know, I'm gonna make this money and that money I'm like, honey, Sir, this is you. You are so in the wrong you know? Like, do you want to Do you run into this? I mean, I'm sure you've spoken to screenwriters coming up screenwriters and filmmakers over the years? Do you see a lot of that a lot, I call it a lottery ticket mentality where they think the next movie is gonna give them you know that they're going to get Steven Spielberg's eye, and he's gonna come down and do all this stuff, or it's going to hit Sundance, or it's gonna get me an agent that's going to give me a million dollar on my next spec, or do you see that mentality in people you want to,

Mick Garris 55:24
there's still enough of that happening, that it's, it's, it's worth, you know, don't give up a dream if your head if you've been pounding your head against the wall for 20 years and have never sold a screenplay, chances are good, that it may not happen. But then it might, you know, I've just reworked a movie that I wrote, I wrote a screenplay 30 years ago, called Jimmy miracle. And I've always thought it was the best movie idea I ever had. And Spielberg loved it at the time. But it wasn't a movie whose time had come. And it's a period picture takes place during the Depression. And so I thought, maybe I'll write it as a novel. And I rewrite it now and then. But I came up with an idea on how to completely revamp it. And keep all of the elements that made it exciting to me, but gave it new elements that made it even more exciting to me. And almost immediately it's been optioned, and we're taking it out to the studios next week. So you know, it's, you got to keep at it as long as you can stand. But if it's been 20 years, and you haven't been able to do it, then do it. Not, you know, don't live at your mom's house, mowing lawns in the hopes that you're going to make it as a screenwriter, if it hasn't happened for 20 years, go ahead and get your job as a lawyer, you know, finish school and, and do that. But, you know, a lot of times I wrote more when I was working a day job than I do working full time as a writer and filmmaker. But it's something it doesn't cost you anything to be a writer. And you know, it's a great hobby, regardless of whether things get made or not. I've written a lot of spec scripts that have never been made, or optioned. And that's just part of the game. But I get to be a better writer each time I do it.

Alex Ferrari 57:30
Now, there's one other project I wanted to talk to you about, which is I generally don't bring up short films on this on this show. But I mean, you worked on ghost. It was a famous short film, starring the late you're not that well. I mean, quote unquote, short work, starring the late great Michael Jackson. And your collaborator was also the late great Stan Winston. And and Stephen King. And oh, that's right. Stephen King was involved with that as well. So I mean, talk about a trifecta of icons, each of them an icon and you're working. What was it like collaborating with, with Michael Jackson, Steven and, and Stan on this, and the show for which I remember was not released in the States. While we're a long time. Yeah.

Mick Garris 58:24
I think it premiered on Halloween, like, two years after it had been made.

Alex Ferrari 58:29
Because I wanted to watch it. Yeah.

Mick Garris 58:32
It was an incredibly troubled production for a number of reasons, including the obvious ones. But Michael went to Stephen King, he said, I want to make the scariest movie ever because he had so much enjoyed making thriller in which I am a zombie, by the way, oh, I mean, what you should

Alex Ferrari 58:49
have led with that make

Mick Garris 58:52
very delete. But so I was shooting the stand at the time. And King had written a draft for Michael. And he'd recommended me as the director to Michael. And so I met with Michael and we hit it off great. He was very sweet. And so we started production and we shot for two weeks. It was originally going to be the end title song for family Addams Family Values. And once we were shooting, we shot for two weeks and never got to the musical number yet when you work with Michael, you worked on Michael time and it didn't have much to do with a 24 hour clock or even a 30 day calendar. So, you know he was great and hard working but it was really slow and two weeks into the shoot. Michael didn't show up the next day. And suddenly we started hearing about this scandal that had happened that none of us believed because Has anybody who'd worked with him could not believe that this was going on. And, to this day, I don't know what the truth of his of it is. My only experiences with Michael were really good ones, we became friends. But, you know, if he did what it said he had done, it's the worst thing in the world. And if he didn't, it's also the worst thing in the world. But he disappeared. And it turned out he was in Thailand. And then we were going to finish it in Japan and my line producer went to Japan and shipped all of the sets we'd been working on to Japan. And then they were shipped back it, it didn't happen for three years. And then Michael said, Okay, I'm ready. We're gonna do it now. Make it's gonna be great. It's

Unknown Speaker 1:00:48
gonna be fantastic.

Mick Garris 1:00:50
And it's been a very good, very good impression, Bella. Thank you. But I was already scheduled to do the shining with Stephen King next. And so I said, Michael, I can't just keep putting this off. I have a hard start date. And you don't. So I, I think you should talk to Stan Winston, they were friends. Stan is a very was a very good director. He had done pumpkin head at that time. And so I said, you guys are friends. He's doing the special effects. Anyway. You should ask him and he he did. And so I had shot two weeks worth of stuff. Including a lot of the visual effects stuff that stands company did digital domain Stan and Jim Cameron's company. And so Stan took it over and it was great. It was everything but the kitchen sink. It was a 35 minute movie that was originally going to be a seven minute music video at most a 15 minute video, but you know Michael ended up paying for the whole thing ended up costing $15 million the most expensive music video in history. And it was a blast but I would love to seen it through from beginning to end but that just though I wouldn't have been able to do the shining

Alex Ferrari 1:02:12
and I'll tell you I had the pleasure of going to stand studio visiting Stan studio while he was still alive and I didn't get to meet Stan but I got to go they took me through the entire studio and that that board room. Oh my god that boardroom for everyone listening the boardroom had the Terminator the predator an alien every like Tom Cruise's. Let's start from Interview

Mick Garris 1:02:36
with the Vampire all that Christopher Lloyd holding his head. Yeah. Facing stories episode.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:42
That's right. All of that stuff was it was two stories. I remember to two floors of all these things looking down on you. Oh my god. How cool is it to have meetings in here? Lucky, lucky people. Yes, absolutely. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. What are three screenplays every every screenwriter should read

Mick Garris 1:03:05
every screenwriter should read well alien to see just how concise it can be. Anything by Preston Sturges to see just what what dialogue can be at its best. And you know, Billy Wilder in an eye all diamond as Sunset Boulevard is a great example. Now, none of those are contemporary. You know, I think some of the Tarantino's writing is amazing. He's not the best speller.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:34
But when you turn to you know, it's it's okay.

Mick Garris 1:03:37
It doesn't matter. Because his dialogue and everything is so great and the ideas are big. And, you know, most people will say, don't write a dialogue pay scene longer than four or five pages. He can give you 15 Great, great pages of dialogue. And he savor every word.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:58
You're in like Inglorious Basterds. I'd like that scene in the in the basement with all the Nazis that that was like 20 minutes. Amazing. 20 or 30 minutes of the movie was just that scene. It's it is it is truly, truly remarkable. Do you appreciate just as as a viewer and as a filmmaker, people and filmmakers and screenwriters who take the swings at bat? They might not always connect, but they take the big swings.

Mick Garris 1:04:25
Absolutely. You know, I think Jordan Peele doing get out was great. And then when he did us, he took bigger swings. They didn't connect as much. But it was great to see him make the attempt to do go beyond what he's already done. And yeah, I mean, obviously my favorite films are where it works in every level. But I love creative. There's is a couple of filmmakers named Aaron Morehead and Justin Benson, who write and direct their own movies and they take big fantastical swings, and they more often than not connect. And it's, it's really fun to see adventurous movies. And, you know, I'm not a fan of franchise movies, particularly within the horror genre. It's a, you know, I want to see somebody, I want to see the next David Cronenberg, you know, somebody whose films are so iconic clastic that they couldn't be made by anybody else.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:28
Right. Exactly. And, I mean, and carpenter, obviously with how that Yeah. And and Well, I mean, the list of things that john has done. Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Mick Garris 1:05:45
Write, and write and write and write, and the you need to be represented. But you need to write something that's not just good, but reflects a personality that nobody else has. It needs to be something an agent's taking home 30 scripts every weekend. And most of those scripts, he's not going to get further than five or 10 pages. And you need to galvanize your reader, and make that reader excited that he's reading a movie that not only is really great, but is something he feels an audience will come to see that he's not looking for an art film, although there are great commercial art films, you know, you're talking about a medium that costs millions of dollars to do it, right. And you're not just masturbating with a camera, we're doing something for an audience, not for yourself. Now, please yourself first, and please the audience as well. But if you imbue your writing with your own personality in a personality that stands out from all others, and makes your script, even if it's audacious, even if they don't buy the script, they look at it and go, this is a writer we should meet with who might be right for such and such a project. So it's just do the best that you can in the most original way that you can to differentiate yourself from the other 29.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:13
And then it is it is true that and I think a lot of screenwriters and filmmakers don't understand this is that they need to understand what their secret sauce is. and lean into that secret sauce. Don't try to be Tarantino cuz you're never gonna be Tarantino he's already Tarantino, right? You're never gonna be we really have a Nolan. We already have a carpenter, you can be inspired by them. But you have so but you have to be you have to have that secret sauce. And that's the only thing in the marketplace that nobody else has. Right?

Mick Garris 1:07:42
Yeah, I mean, your main your main target, is to get them to want to keep turning the page. Make your scripts readable.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:56
Excellent, excellent advice. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Mick Garris 1:08:04
Well, in life, I think there are still lessons I haven't completely learned. But as far as the film industry goes, I mean, it's always going to be up and down. You can do something huge, like the stand and not work again for three years. You know, same. It's, it's every bit as hard. The second, third, fourth and fifth time out is the first time maybe the wheels have been greased a bit in that people know who you are or know your work. But you have to keep proving yourself and you can't rest on your laurels because those were out real quick.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:43
And finally, three of your favorite films of all time. Okay. Dead Ringers. Oh, great. Cronenberg. Yes. Great writer Frankenstein. Yes. And Raiders. avastar. nice combination. That's a good that's a good movie night. That is a good movie night. They'd have nothing in common. Yeah. Now, where can people find watch your show and then consume your content, sir.

Mick Garris 1:09:15
Okay, my podcast post mortem with Mick garris is on Apple podcasts and every other podcast app around. We interview do interviews every other week. And on the alternating weeks, we do post mortem ama where you can ask Nick anything, and we solicit questions. I'm on Facebook at post mortem with Mick garris Mick garris pm on Instagram and on Twitter. And we'll keep things alive that way all the time. You'll know what's coming and when we're asking for questions from the audience, and all that stuff.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:50
And I will put that all in the show notes. Mick, thank you so much for taking the time for the show and dropping your knowledge bombs on My tribe today so I appreciate

Mick Garris 1:10:02
All right, always a pleasure. Thank you

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IFH 625: Indie Film Hustle Success Story – American Murderer with Matthew Gentile

Matthew Gentile is an award-winning filmmaker based in Los Angeles.

He most recently wrote and directed his first feature, AMERICAN MURDERER: a true-crime drama about a charismatic conman who became the FBI’s most unlikely and elusive top ten fugitive. Photographed in Utah during the height of the pandemic, AMERICAN MURDERER stars Tom Pelphrey, Ryan Phillippe, Idina Menzel, Jacki Weaver, Shantel Vansanten, Paul Schneider, Moises Arias, and Kevin Corrigan. Traveling Picture Show Company produced the film with Gigi Films, Productivity Media Inc, and Radiant Films International.

AMERICAN MURDERER opens in select theaters on October 21st and becomes available on streaming on October 28th.
And that for more information, they can follow me on Instagram @matthewlgentile or go to my website: www.matthewgentiledirector.com

A graduate of the directing program at the AFI Conservatory, Matthew’s thesis films FRONTMAN (which won 12 awards including the Student Emmy for Best Directing), and LAWMAN played over 100 festivals worldwide.

A Brooklyn native, Matthew holds a BA in English & Film Studies from Connecticut College and an MFA in Directing from the American Film Institute.

Please enjoy my conversation with Matthew Gentile.

Matthew Gentile 0:00
Every actor is different. They all have a different language. And you know, your job as a director is kind of figure that out, right? Not necessarily trying to figure them out and pinpoint them. Okay, no, you know, but figure out how they work what they need.

Alex Ferrari 0:13
This episode is brought to you by the Best Selling Book, Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com. I'd like to welcome to the show Matthew Gentile. How you doing Matthew?

Matthew Gentile 0:27
Great, how are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:29
I'm doing good, man. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Man. You, you wrote me an impassioned email to, you know, to come on the show. And, and, you know, tell everybody, first of all that how you found me and what, what the show is done for you. Because I always love kind of sharing those stories with the audience.

Matthew Gentile 0:45
Yeah, well, you know, as we were saying, I found the show in 2020 and COVID. You know, I was in a phase where I just want to listen to as many podcasts as I could with all the time we have in our hands. And this one rang red straight to the top of my list, because I saw your episode with my mentor and dear friend, Judith Weston. And I thought you just did an incredible job interviewing her about her process, and how she works with directors and actors. And you know, Judith is such an important person to be in for so many filmmakers have benefited from her wisdom. I just had a consultation with her recently for my next film. And, you know, she, of course, just blew my mind and pushed me and she's, she's just so she's such a deep thinker about film. And I thought your interview did a really great job getting to the heart of it. And I've seen filmmaker friends of mine, you know, Film School alums, like Chloe Okuno, and Max Barbic, who I went to AFI film school with, I've seen them do great interviews with you promoting your film and promoting their films. And I just think what you really specialize in is getting to the core of, you know, indie films, how we make them, how do we get them out there? But like you said, you know, you're you Britain, cut through the delusions about the film industry, I think you're there just real conversations with filmmakers. I feel like when I listen to your podcast, and like having coffee, with the person you're interviewing, you know, I'm a fan. And, you know, as I'm doing the press rounds through this movie, I thought I gotta get on that one. I have a few on my lesson. Like, I want to get on that one on that one. So I'm glad you were so receptive, and had me on Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 2:21
I appreciate it. Man, I appreciate I try to, we try to break through the delusion of most filmmakers, because most filmmakers are delusional I was, I'm sure you weren't? Sure. There has to be a sense of delusion. I think to get into the business, you have to be delusional. To stay in the business, you kind of have to be kind of delusional there is this level of delusion for us to even do or try to do what we're doing because it's insane. In sane to get a movie off the ground shot film, and then when you're exhausted, then you got to find distribution. And then hopefully, you'll get a check. And hopefully, someone will give you another job again, it's just this. So you, there has to be a healthy amount of delusion, but a healthy amount, not a unhealthy amount, which is what I generally run into, was I was extremely unhealthy with my delusion for quite some time for a long, long time. So that's why I can speak about it so clearly. So Matt, so first question, Brother, how and why did you want to get into this insanity that is the film industry?

Matthew Gentile 3:25
Well, the story I typically tell is when I was 12 years old, my father showed me Doctor afternoon. She's 12 years old.

Alex Ferrari 3:35
It was it was the 80s It was the 80s kids, it was it was 80s or 90s.

Matthew Gentile 3:41
It was early 2000's.

Alex Ferrari 3:43
All right. So yeah,

Matthew Gentile 3:45
I think I'm in my 20s. But I'm 32. So the Yeah, I saw talk to everyone. I was 12 in the early aughts. And you know, it was a film that just completely blew my mind. You know, to the point where my father showed it to me, I kind of said, Hey, I don't want I want that. Give me more of that. And you know, that led to godfather. Films I grew up loving. But so I that movie really spoke to me, you know, set in Brooklyn where I grew up. I'm from Brooklyn, New York. And when I saw the film, you know, I was so captured by Al Pacino and his performance. Just really, I felt sympathy for him. Even though he was going around the bank putting the gun in people's faces. I felt so much like when he finally gets caught that last shot of the movie, when he's it's all on his face, and just everything about spoke. I mean, I was you know, I was into theater as a kid, I was into film, you know, so I was into the arts, you know, and so acting was something that was going on my mind writing stories was on my mind. So I had a creative energy within me like, you know, but I didn't know where to necessarily put her whatnot. But finally, one day, I was still age 12. My mom and I grew up in New York City. We're walking down the street You and they used to sell at these on the streets it I don't know where you're from but New York, from New York. Well, yeah. So they used to sell these stuff on the streets dance, they would have scripts like that were printed.

Alex Ferrari 5:12
Oh, when I went back in the early to the 2000s. I saw that in front of like NYU and like they have like, yeah, Fight Club and like the bootleg bootleg scripts basically

Matthew Gentile 5:24
Exactly. Like they printed off like Drew scriptor, Rama and like, put a cover with the like, Yes.

Alex Ferrari 5:34
Put the poster like but it was black and white version.

Matthew Gentile 5:37
Or like, yeah, or some generic still from the film. Like I think dog afternoon. It was the picture of like him holding the woman holding Silvia outside the bank. So I saw this script on the streets. I was like, Oh, they had only scripts and I saw a job do you afternoon I was crying. And my mom sees that. And so she bought me the screenplay for $10 is a Hanukkah present. And I took the screenplay, I read it. And I had a VHS and I watched the movie. And I read the script. I watched the film. And that was the first time I saw in my own life that like oh my god, words on a page could become images on a screen. And I was just really fascinated by that. And I love the screenplay architecture. Fred Pearson who wrote the script was you know, one of my favorite writers Cool Hand Luke I saw shortly after that also became one of my all time favorites. I know right Phil things in the movie said that Paul Newman and cool I look was the reason he became an actor. So you know, I think there's there's a lot of you know, these movies and Frank Pearson was incredible screenwriter. And he actually was also the artistic director of AFI. But he passed right before I started as a student. So, you know, dogs, it was kind of that one movie. And then there was another film watching experience that really kicked me out the door. senior year of high school, my English teacher showed a cure curse I was robbed. In a King Lear class. And it was a class just it was actually a class was interesting. CG was cool. He did a class that was called King Lear to end it. So same effects end game and King Lear, and about existentialism and all that when you're 17 you're on your journey English is so mind blowing. And I loved King Lear as a play. But the Phil Ron just shook the box. And it's funny because when I saw it, we saw it in like segments, because it's high school. So they show you like 30 minutes. That's a long movie. So it took like four weeks to watch run, but I couldn't get anywhere. So I was like, I really want to finish run like so badly. But seeing Ron and more than that reading about the process of how Kurosawa made that film. You know how he was 75 years old, and he was going blind. And he was his wife, who had been with his whole life and career had just passed away. And he mourned for two days and then went back to filming how he built castles and blew them up, like for real, and the costumes and the extras and, and I just thought the madness of this was so interesting to me. And I just you know, he quickly became my favorite director of all time still is I have a Seven Samurai poster on my apartment. You know, I just love Carissa Moore. You know, I love a lot of great directors, but he's my, that's my all time spirit animal.

Alex Ferrari 8:16
I will tell you that the I own two autographs. One of them is Akira Kurosawa know what I have when we get off. I'll grab that it's sitting over there. I'll grab it. I'll show it to you and the other ones George Lucas. Which I got on a on a Star Wars lunchbox

Matthew Gentile 8:31
Personally, that says disciple. Yes. At the world premiere of this film, American murder hybrid premiered at the Toronto Film Fest in Sicily. And Francis Ford Coppola was there showing the Godfather night before my film screened. And I got to meet him and I. And I asked him about Kurosawa and like his stories, and they were great. He's talking about how they would like go to the steakhouse and talk for hours. And I asked Coppola. He asked me what my favorite Kurosawa film was. And I said, Ron, and he said back Oh, my bad sleep. Well, it's like, of course, I know that. You stole the cake scene. Whether they stole the shots or not. But he then Coble asked me, he was going Okay, so you've seen this one. And then basically, he goes for me like, yeah, of course, I'll be I think 30 feature films, total, something like that. So he basically goes about 12. I've seen them all. And then he gets to one I haven't. I'm liking what's called Looking after, but it was really funny. He stumped me finally, and I was like, do I lie and tell him I've seen it, or do I just tell the truth and I told the truth. But it's a fairly light hearted comedy one that he did. I mean, he just made so many incredible films and masterpieces. And, you know, I think Coppola's famous quote was like most filmmakers make one or two masterpieces you know, carousel only made eight to 10. Like it's, you know, it's an ending Made them across such a and I know a lot of filmmakers have cited him like Florence Carson said, you know, comparison of Shakespeare or the Beatles, you know, and yeah, he's just an incredible.

Alex Ferrari 10:09
Yeah, it's like him and Kubrick for me. It's, of course, I want to Kubrick. They may you know, masterpieces like they just come in and they just do what they do. But it's pretty remarkable now on your on your filmmaking path. Based on your IMDB, which I was looking at you did a good amount of shorts. You made a good amount of short films before you even got to AFI. Is that Is that correct?

Matthew Gentile 10:36
Yeah, you know, I did I, you know, my film path was, you know, I in high school, I made like, think like one or two with my brother, actually, who did the score for the film. He's a class my brother's a classical pianist and conductor. Sure. And this was his first film score actually did an incredible job. He just won an award yesterday

Alex Ferrari 10:55
And the price and I'm assuming the price was right. I'm assuming the price was right back then. Was that the price was right for hiring your brother.

Matthew Gentile 11:02
Oh, yeah. He was very unexpected. He's still we're both expensive. But yeah, the price was right. So he was Yeah, but we, we wrote You know, we were kind of like the Gentile brothers in high school, we made a couple of movies and what I don't know if those are an IMDB they might be. Obviously IMDb keeps everything on there. But I know a lot of people try to get stuff erased from them, and they never do it. So they aren't they aren't extensive, or exhaustive. But I made a couple of films in high school. You know, I in college, I did a liberal arts degree, I went to Connecticut College. I majored in English and film studies. But it was a semester abroad where I went to the family film school in Prague, which I'm sure someone else but as I've talked about before, a lot of filmmakers kind of seem to have come through that. And that was my first time experiencing film conservatory. And I made a short film that I adapted from a Hemingway story called got in the ring. That, um, you know, that was my first time making film. I was like, oh, you know, this is it. It's, you know, writing and directing is what I want to do. Like, for sure, you know, it's kind of always there in the background, you know, but like, I remember being in high school, I was like, really obsessed with acting like that was like my passion. And as a teacher kind of say to me, great drama teacher, who was a good actor himself and had worked and, you know, was teaching in between jobs. And he worked with me a lot. And I kind of asked him, I was like, Do you have what it takes to be an actor and he looked at me and he was like, one of the truth like, maybe, but I think your director or scream, he assaulted me. And I was really great. At the time, I was pissed at him. So I want to say it was gonna be the next you know, Marlon Brando. Retrospective like what a great teacher because he really told me the truth and, you know, pushed me to where he could sense the passion for the arts, but he saw was being used in the wrong place. And so so you know, but around Yeah, junior year of college, that was one of my when I did that semester abroad in Prague at the family film school, that was kind of like, I would say, my point of no return to use screenwriting terms. You know, after that, I was like, I'm gonna go, be a director, whatever it takes. And then, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 13:06
So so when you're on your journey, now, I'm assuming you're getting paid left and right, you're making tons of cash as a director, right, just tons and tons and tons of cash all the way through.

Matthew Gentile 13:16
I don't know what to do with all of it.

Alex Ferrari 13:18
I mean, it was just, it was kind of like, it was kind of like Pablo Escobar, you were like burying it in the back. That was just so much guys. Over the years, you know, because it looked like from when you started to when you finally got your first American American murderer is your first feature, correct? Yes. So from the point of view, getting your first feature done, you did a whole bunch of short films. I assume you weren't getting paid for these short films. You weren't making a tremendous amount of money. So this is the thing I love asking filmmakers, because so many of us listening right now are going through this. How did you keep going? How did you wake up in the morning going? Am I on the right path? Because this is we're talking about better part of a decade. And yes, you're at school and you're and you're, you know, you're AFI in Prague, I get that part of it. And you're when you're surrounded by that the delusion continues. Because you're surrounded by filmmakers and film teachers, and you're learning and you're just like, Yeah, but at a certain point, you have to go, you know, how many no more? I'm assuming you had a few nodes along the way, as well. So how did you so what what tips what how?

Matthew Gentile 14:28
Well, yeah, I definitely talked about the path because you know, when I, you know, when I graduated college and decide, okay, I want to be a filmmaker. It's like, great, who doesn't? You know, who doesn't want to be a director screenwriter, so you know, or act, right? Yeah. And so, my parents my first job in the industry, I actually, I mean, I had a lot of internships throughout college, but I actually worked at William Morris Endeavor in the mailroom. And then I became an assistant there. And with one week's paycheck, which at the time, I think was $670 I made a short film for that amount of money. And that's the film that got me into AFI, which is not a cheap film school to go to as well I know is not. And, you know, so I went to AFI and was very felt very lucky to be there. It was, I think the youngest director, there are one of them at least, because AFI tends to skew older in terms of the applicants to graduate school, not an undergrad. And, you know, but at such a talented class. Like I said, Max Barbra Cal was my class. Chloe Hakuna was the year before me was director Akasha Stevenson, who just booked the Omen film and has been doing TV for five years was my classmate. So I had a really, I think, I hope we become a what was in the water that your class because there are so many talented directors who I think, you know, we're gonna graduate now six, seven years ago. And I think there's a lot of them are going to come out and blow people's minds. So it was, it was quite a class, it was a matter they weren't talented, to the point where it scared me that these these people were good. And so but you know, you graduate film school, and in my case, I was quite lucky. My short my thesis short. Well, what's cool about AFI actually is your first year you make three but they call cycle films, where you make really cheap, and you you know, like the the, they make, like $5,000 budgets, right, and you like, you go out and shoot them in a weekend and you come back at them, and then you screen them for your peers, and they go to and on stage and bellick My first press conference for American murder and Terminator which went very well only reminded me of it just from the physical act of walking up on stage to be like to talk to or ask questions. But in the case of backpass narrative workshop, you specifically go up on stage, I know a lot of filmmakers have talked about how it just made them, you know, throw up on the waist, or whatnot. But it was, it was really great. Honestly, though, because it really prepares you for the industry. Because, you know, when you do a test screening of a movie after that, nothing really fazes you. But um, you know, it was it was it was incredible opportunity. But so, you know, you graduate film school, and in my case, you know, my first three films I made that year, were not overly exceptional. My third one was my best so I was getting better. But then you make a thesis film your second year, and for me my thesis film frontman, which was probably at this point, like short film, six or seven in the game. That one really opened a lot of doors while the student me got a lot festival traction. And I had the opportunity actually, I was paid to do one short, but very little money by AFI to come back and direct law man, because the director of the year below man dropped out and left the team and so they needed a director. So they paid me like a TA salary. And I was able to do that. And that was actually my first technical, you know, directing for hire job. It didn't feel like that since I was extremely passionate about. But that was the first time I think I got paid to direct. And you know, when I graduated film school, I kind of was in a bit of an awkward place. So I was like, I was like, you know, do I, you know, I was an assistant before I was like, well do I go try to be an assistant to a director again, and I had some kind of almost there. And I think that's a totally valid path that I know a lot of people have done, but what I was sensing was I kind of needed to embrace the indie film, hustle and the entrepreneurial way of, you know, you know, support myself get through this work but like don't work for someone you know, like an alias director because you're going to be working for them 17 hours day or no time to work on your own stuff. And because I was having traction with my thumbs, I was like, I need to work towards getting my first feature paid. And so you know, I did when I graduate I'm gonna do all kinds of gigs from you know, I did reality TV under a fake name. I did like these awful like cooking.

Alex Ferrari 18:45
Allan Smoothie?

Matthew Gentile 18:47
Something like, Sean, something. Um, but you know, yeah, and I did whatever I could, you know, to like keep keep the lights on like really cheap a rumble, I didn't know what write my scripts, and then I'd be like, oh, I need to go do another gig. But finally, what actually ended up sustaining me through my years up to American murderer was script reading. I was I was qualified for that, because I had worked at William Morris. And that became the easiest and most sustainable way for me to, you know, work consistently and be able to write my own scripts, and, you know, have the flexibility to be able to stop finding too or, you know, binge down. I read a bunch but and it also was for me script dream was my screen read school, you know, AFI was my directing school and script reading for I can't say the sites right now. Because, you know, they like anonymity, but, you know, think big screenwriting competitions or, you know, sites like that. And, you know, they were my screenwriting school, they really allow they gave me a way to support myself. So that book without them, I don't think I would not be here because I came here to support myself as I became a professional writer, and director. And so the path towards getting American work or made, you know, a year or two out of AFI. I thought I thought I was hardship because my film wildcards and then I realized after five seconds, nobody gives a shit anymore.

Alex Ferrari 20:14
You know, they didn't just walk up and go, How much money did you need?

Matthew Gentile 20:18
Yeah, do you think you're good? Because you want to know more? Oh my god, and then no one cares. And they're because they asked you the first thing you do when you make, you know, anything decent, as they say, what's your next thing? You know, what's your next three things?

Alex Ferrari 20:30
Let alone the next?

Matthew Gentile 20:31
What's your next? Exactly. It's a what's next business as we know. And so, you know, I was kind of in between a call er, because again, I think, if I can give some advice, which I don't know, if you should listen to but you know it, you know, when you leave film school, I think a lot of people have different visions of like, what they're, or even if you don't go to film school, because, you know, there probably are more great filmmakers that didn't go to film school that did, arguably, who knows. But um, you know, whatever it is, when you decide to build a career for yourself, you know, like, I don't know, I think everyone's vision of their own career probably changed at some point along the way.

Alex Ferrari 21:07
Every single Yeah,

Matthew Gentile 21:09
Like, because I never set out to be necessarily Mr. True Crime filmmaker, you know, now, American murder, I could say, and one thing I'm very proud of, is it is 100% A movie I wanted to make. It's not a film. I was like, hired to do. I mean, I wasn't contracts, I guess. It's terms with the contracts. But I but I did. It was a film that came from inside very personal, very deep rooted not, you know, but, but we know that it's very hard to get movies made. And, you know, everyone has to figure out how to work in the business and how to make films how to get financing for them. And it's a constant struggle on crime.

Alex Ferrari 21:44
So how so that was my next question. How did you get American murder American murderer off the ground, because you have a really great cast? You know, I won't ask you the budget, but it looks good. It doesn't look like you made it for five grand. So like for five grand? Five grand, we sold it for 50. And I'm done. And

Matthew Gentile 22:06
You've never heard of

Alex Ferrari 22:07
Exact the highest sale ever for, that you've never heard about. I saw I signed nondisclosure. I can't even talk about it. But how did you get this? I know you did a short film version of it. And that I'm assuming, because that's, that's a myth as well, that so many filmmakers, I'm going to make a short film version of this script. And hopefully, that's going to get me to the feature. I did that multiple times in my career and never worked out. But it does work for some people. But I've heard in most of the times, it doesn't work, because it's just so damn hard. So how did you get this thing off the ground? How did you get your cast to agree to work with the first a quote unquote, first time director?

Matthew Gentile 22:51
All that kind of stuff? Yeah, no, that's, that's a great question. And so basically, you know, going back, I was, yeah, 2017 or 2018. I'm thinking, What is my first feature? What, like, what, what will it be? You know, and there were a couple, like, I was thinking, MIDI go, you know, trying to make something like, and I was very inspired by the Duplass brothers, who's, you know, I like their films by sensibility. As you could probably tell from the trailers, absolutely nothing like that at all. But I really like their stuff. And I love what they've had to say about indie film, just go out and do it. So I thought, okay, maybe I could make something for like 10 grand or 50, grand, even right, through Kickstarter, or whatnot. But, you know, I didn't quite have a story that fit that budget. Exactly. So I was sort of like, and then there was a film that actually, you know, an agent had sent to me, that was like, a home invasion thriller. That was like, you know, maybe like a small budget, but an offer to direct something. But, you know, the script didn't even work. And the writers of it didn't really, like want to change anything. So I realized I was like, if I shoot this, I'm just going to be a traffic cop, basically, and I'm not really going to have any, like, you know, not contributing much. And so I've kind of left that project, which, you know, people might give like, why are you doing that?

Alex Ferrari 24:09
Right, it was it was a gig. That's, that's a really interesting because

Matthew Gentile 24:12
Yeah, but I didn't want to do you know, because one thing about, you know, directing a movie as we know, your your side to that for life, you know, that's a 25 to life. You know, and so, look, I'm in movies don't always turn out how you want and, you know, every director, you know, has to take risks and swings and some of my favorites, you know, taking like real swings, and sometimes they're not understood in their time. But, you know, at the very least, I think you got to be able to wake up and say, you know, like, I did something I want to do or I'm proud of, or has my heart in it or whatnot. And so I was in this awkward time, so cut back a little earlier. I'm 14. I wanted to be an FBI agent before I was a filmmaker, and I used to go on the FBI as top 10 list with the dreams and hopes of helping the FBI catch a fugitive. And it's at this time that the face of Jason Derek Brown enters my life. You know, you got to see menacing faces, Osama bin Laden white Bolger, right. And then the surfer dude from Southern California. So the face stands out to me. And I'm like, What's that? That's interesting. Cut you 12 or so maybe 13 years later, I'm figuring out what's my first feature? Some storyboarding. A shoot I think was a really bad dentistry commercial. But I also used a fake name. And I, all of a sudden, as I'm storyboarding, I always have documentaries on the background. And the face of Jason Derrick Brown was popped onto the screen. Again, I was the first time I'd seen it. And like, since, you know, age 14, and I'm like, that's crazy. skystone essay? What, like, what happened here? What's the story? And so I became absolutely obsessed with the story. You know, because it was a camp, that's charismatic con man becomes a bank robber, just really, it's dark to me. And, you know, I have a great writing mentor, named Billy Ray, who always says that, if he's in, he's a great guy. You know, he has in his lectures, he's very, like, tough, you know, in terms of like, he's very, like, you know, coming to the delusions, in your face kind of guy from what I've said, but he's a great human being. I mean, he's like, just a heartfelt good guy. There's so much for political causes everything. There's a real mentor and match of a human. And he, he's his big philosophy always is, if I don't wake up in the morning thinking about the project, I don't say yes, he's in a position to turn down projects, which a lot of us aren't. But he you know, he's as if I wake up thinking about in the shower, I'm not, I shouldn't do it. And I think it's kind of similar about a film. And so I kept waking up thinking about Jason dark brown, this could be a really cool movie, and it felt like it to me. So at first I thought, maybe I'll try to write it and sell it as a script. Because it might be too ambitious for first movie, you know, this would be probably, you know, some some cachet behind it. So I got I thought, just give it a go as a script, because why not? And so I wrote the script. And at the time, I had known this actor, Jonathan gruff, who was about to be on the show of mine, Dr. And I knew him because, yeah, yeah. And, and he, I knew him because I used to tape his auditions in the William Morris mail. And so after my short did decently for me, I kind of touched with him to his agents, I think. And I said to him, Hey, would you like to be in this? You know, I'm writing a script for you. And he was like, oh, that sounds a pitched it to me. That sounds cool. Send it to me. And, you know, we'll see. And so he read it a few months later, he really liked it. And, but I don't think his agents did.

He wanted to do it, though. And so we kind of were like, I was like, great. So I have this guy I have, he's gonna show it's about to come out with David Fincher, that's pretty cool. And so I was kicking the thing around, it was hard to get people to read it. So to go to the proof of concepts, or I go into a company one day, and I pitched the script, and, you know, I pitch the dragons and you know, wants to do it. And they're like, you know, they have five out of 10 interested, so not great. And so I'm leaving, and this guy kind of pulls me aside and he goes, you need to do a proof of concept of the script. And I kind of like looked at him. And I was like, oh, yeah, like another short, great. That's the last thing I want to do. Right now I've done at this point, maybe eight, right? I'm like, you know, how many more shorts can I do? What am I going to do? What do I need to prove? And the guys that are very smart. Like I said, You've proven you can direct with those shorts, but you have not proven you can direct this. And I was like, Damn, that's pretty smart. So he gave me kind of a different instruction that this guy really kind of gave me he was like, but don't try to make a short work as a short, right? Because like, what makes a great short film and I honestly I even though some of my shorts didn't win awards, I would say I'd never made a great short film personally. I mean, very well made ones possibly have in areas for the time of being a student. You know, I didn't make pioneer by David Lowery ever or curfew by Sean Christianson. Like those were shorts that really like you know, had that or even mark McDonough shorts over the broken like those shorts had like real, you know, payoff structure. All right. My shorts were like really like good trailers first features.

Alex Ferrari 29:16
So that's exactly what you needed. That's exactly what you needed.

Matthew Gentile 29:18
And so I went for American murder inside just to shoot one scene. And we shoot one shot one of the climactic scenes of a SWAT invasion. We did it all in one shot. And I got Jonathan to do it. And when I made that when I shot that scene and put it up on IMDb, all of a sudden, mine 100 dropped and then a lot of people were interested in reading the script and wanting to know about so I was totally right. The script did become a really valuable calling card by the called the short became a very good calling card for the screenplay. However, it did not walk me up to a deal, you know. So I would say that I think what you were saying earlier is is accurate that it can help you get a step ahead, but it's not necessarily going to secure a thing because what happened was that they were Getting the script by that point had gotten a lot better. So people were interested, but some were interested in me not doing it. Because it was like ambitious and you have a script and run with it, thank you, but I wasn't interested in that. And then two different producers slash companies kind of came into my orbit that were very supportive of me directing it. That was traveling picture show company. My producers, Kevin Metacell, and Karissa fell, and Gigi films, Gia Walsh, those two came at me from different angles around the same time, they now debate who came first, it was geotech, Kevin grossa. And they, they saw my short, they read my script, that's all my other shorts, and they were like, Okay, we'll develop this with you. And we'll go through a process and we'll get it out to the right actors, and they really helped me, you know, because that process of working with them, you know, we developed the script for the year, roughly, I think, and there was option for me, and they were giving me notes, and I was doing rewrites. And that was my professional riding school. Right. You know, and then after that, we finished the script, you know, are like, okay, it's ready to go out for casting now. Awesome. And it's March 1 2020. So at that point, you know, we don't know where the world is gonna go are thinking, yeah, that'd be filming, you know, the third quarter of 2020 and get, get an actor touch and let's go. And then it didn't really look like it was going to happen, you know, for a little while. But what I decided to do in the pandemic, I was working, I had remote work as a script reader. So I was, you know, fortunately, I was able to keep working. But in my off hours, all I did was prepare with my team, non stop, I cinematographer and I shot listened script six times, I've worked with all my thesis shorts. And same with my editors. You know, one of them was doing pre visualization with me on all the set pieces were like, Let's hit this thing. Let's do my about every shot and like, be ready to go for tomorrow. And I was it was nice, because it helped keep people's morale up and the time when it was not great. And then, you know, we were getting, in terms of the big thing about getting this movie made specifically because it's really all about the character of Jason Derrick Brown was getting the right actor. And by this point, Jonathan was no longer available. He was shooting matrix and you know, millions of other things because mine better blew him up into, you know, exponential proportions. But he's the nicest guy. And you know, we had the most amicable authority for the project. But now we need to find our Jason and Tom Pelphrey came onto my radar because my producer GIA Walsh was watching Noah's Ark. And she said to Matthew, this guy's dynamite, and I had actually never watched it. So I was like, Okay, I guess I gotta watch Ozark. And I did it. It was a great show. He was phenomenal. And it's very clear that he was the guy, you know, like, you have a lot of people