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IFH 751: How to Turn Your Movie Script into a Money-Making Machine with Mark Toia

UPDATE: Mark Toia has passed away in 2023. He was a visionary filmmaker whose extraordinary talent and creativity transformed the landscape of modern cinema. His ability to blend breathtaking visuals with compelling storytelling made his work unforgettable and inspired countless aspiring artists. Mark’s legacy will continue to shine through his groundbreaking films, leaving an indelible mark on the industry and in the hearts of those who admired him.


So insane and talented Australian filmmaker Mark Toia is back to tell us how he made millions of dollars self-distributing his remarkable debut, Monsters of Man. After getting offered bad and predatory distribution deals, he wondered if there was another way. Enter my book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur: How to Turn Your Film into a Money-Making Business. 

When I wrote my book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur, I hoped it would help filmmakers around the world. I never thought that a filmmaker halfway around the world would read it and change his entire marketing and distribution plan for his million-dollar+ indie film.

After reading Rise of the Filmtrepreneur, he reached out to tell me what he was thinking of doing. He was planning on self-distributing his film as an experiment to see if he could do it and to prove to filmmakers worldwide that you can get a great ROI (Return on Investment) on a million-dollar+ indie film without any major bankable stars.

I asked him,

“So a million-dollar Filmtrepreneur experiment?”

Mark said yes. He had already been offered multiple seven-figure deals from distributors, but after looking at the convoluted fine print of the distribution contracts, he decided to opt-out. The payment schedules were so insane it would take Mark forever to get any money at all. The traditional film distribution path was not designed to help him get paid, and if a film like Monsters of Man is having these issues, the system is most definitely broken.

Then he discovered my book and went down the Filmtrepreneur rabbit hole. When I saw the trailer for the first time, I almost fell out of my chair. I recently had the pleasure of watching the film, and all I can say is:

“Monsters of Man is one of the BEST films I’ve seen in 2020. A must watch!”

In this conversation, Mark is completely transparent about how he made millions with his film. He also reveals his successes and some failures he dealt with along the way. This is truly a one-in-a-decade indie film experiment that you now have access to see how it was done.

Enjoy my conversation with Mark Toia.

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IFH 750: How To Write a Blockbuster Film Career with Chris Sparling

It’s always way fun to have a guest who is also a fan of the show. This week’s guest is definitely a member of the tribe. We chatted up pre-interview about some of his favorite IFH podcast episodes like Ed Burns and Joe Carnahan and I knew front hen on we were on for a treat. My guest today is award-winning writer, director, and producer, Chris Sparling.

Chris has written some of Hollywood’s most original and fascinating screenplays like Buried, Greenland, Mercy, Down A Dark Hall, Reincarnate (featuring Leonardo DiCaprio), The Sea of Trees with Matthew McConaughey, etc.

One of his latest films, Greenland, which premiered in 2020 started streaming on Amazon prime this February

The disaster thriller film starring Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin follows a family who must fight for survival as planet-destroying comet races to Earth. Butler’s family struggles for survival in the face of a cataclysmic natural disaster as the planet-killing comet races to Earth. John Garrity (Gerard Butler), his estranged wife Allison (Morena Baccarin), and young son Nathan make a perilous journey to their only hope for sanctuary.

Amid terrifying news accounts of cities around the world being leveled by the comet’s fragments, the Garrity’s experience the best and worst in humanity while they battle the increasing panic and lawlessness surrounding them. As the countdown to global apocalypse approaches zero, their incredible trek culminates in a desperate and last-minute flight to a possible safe haven.

With its reception and regardless of the COVID 19 Pandemic, the film grossed $52.3 million at the Box Office and was announced that the sequel, Greenland: Migration is already in the works. The continuation of the story will center around the Garritys’ journey across a frozen European wasteland to find a new home. STX has already acquired the worldwide distribution rights for the film at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival for the sequel with a $65 million budget.

Chris’s path to becoming a renowned Hollywood blockbuster writer begun on the actor’s path. He was inspired to take up writing after the 1997 hit psychological drama film, Goodwill Hunting which was directed by Gus Van Sant and starred Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and others.

He left Los Angeles on a home (Rhodes Island) bound to recalibrate and focus on completing college and writing because it was a challenge juggling that and acting auditions. After completing college, Sparling returned to Los Angeles. With no connections or leads, he returned to Rhodes Island with the plan to make a movie of one of the many scripts he had written by then. Though he had no formal film production experience at this point, Sparling wrote, directed, and produced An Uzi at the Alamo which is about a young writer in search of his identity, pledges to his dysfunctional family that he will commit suicide on his 25th birthday. As the fateful day approaches, he stumbles upon love and a new sense of self. Fearing family humiliation if he backs out of his pledge, he prepares for his last birthday with the feigned support of his family.

Of course, the film did not do well, but this is when things became interesting for Chris’s writing career. He dusted up and sent out about one hundred specs to studios, managers, producers, literally anyone he could contact. He received back, only three responses and one of which was from a manager who became his manager and still is till this day. That was his first open door.

When I saw the trailer for Chris’s 2010 film, Buried, and the success of it, as an independent filmmaker, I was in awe and slightly jealous of how easy (cost, and production-wise), revolutionary the film is. Buried is a brilliantly twisted suspense and original screenplay that is a nightmare for claustrophobes. 

Sparling found mainstream success when his feature-length screenplay Buried was purchased by producer Peter Safran starring Ryan Reynolds.

Ryan plays Paul, an Iraq-based American civilian truck drive. After an attack by a group of Iraqis, he Wakes up groggy in pitch darkness, to find he is buried alive inside a coffin. With only a lighter, flask, flashlight, knife, glowsticks, pen, pencil, and a mobile phone.

It’s a race against time to escape this claustrophobic death trap. He is left to rely on his cell phone to contact the outside world. But the outside world proves not to be very helpful at finding a man buried in a box in the middle of the Iraqi desert. Paul must rely on his best resource–himself.

The film premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was sold to Lionsgate Films. Buried was shown at several major European and North American film festivals. It was nominated for and won a plethora of European films awards because it was produced in Barcelona by Barcelona-based Versus Entertainment, in association with The Safran Company and Dark Trick Films.

Some of the awards included the Goya Award, for Best Original Screenplay, a Gaudi Award in the same category, and the best European feature film of the year award at the Strasbourg European Fantastic Film Festival in September 2010. This $2 million budget indie film made a gross splash of $21.3 million worldwide. 

Sparling had an immediate success from Buried; between the script going out in March of 2009 and the movie premiering at Sundance in 2010, and he suddenly needed an agent, an attorney, and everything legit in between. 

Intrusion, Sparling’s latest film will be streaming on Netflix in just one week (September 22, 2021), starring Freida Pinto and Logan Marshall-Green

It is about a husband and wife who move to a small town. A deadly home invasion leaves the wife traumatized and suspicious that those around her might not be who they seem. Even though it was self-defense, it was still a homicide. However, it turns out that the home invasion was not a one-off, and there are many other missing person cases in which the invaders may be involved. Meera falls into a rabbit hole as she takes it upon herself to find out the truth.

Enjoy my entertaining conversation with Chris Sparling.

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IFH 749: Save the Cat! Writing for Netflix & Television with Jamie Nash

This week, I invited author, writer, and director, Jamie Nash on the show to discuss his ‘Save The Cats Writes for TV’ formula in his new book, Save the Cat!® Writes for TV: The Last Book on Creating Binge-Worthy Content You’ll Ever Need.

Jamie is a horror and children’s film screenwriter with fifteen years of experience writing projects for  Nickelodeon, Liongate, Discovery, Amazon Prime, Netflix, etc, and also teaches screenwriting to college students.

Some of his most notable horror credits include V/H/S/2, Lovely Molly, and Seventh Moon, A Comedy of Horrors, and Two Front Teeth. And others like Adventures of a Teenage Dragon Slayer, Tiny Christmas, etc.

Screenwriting, for Jamie, was a side project he pursued at leisure when he wasn’t working his Computer gaming/programming job. It wasn’t until early 2004 that he sold his first script, a horror feature titled, Altered, to Haxan Films that was later directed in 2006 by one of the Blair Witch Project directors, Eduardo Sánchez. The story premised on a group of men whose lives were forever changed by a strange occurrence who, fifteen years later Now, will spend a night together … in terror.

With some financial success and notoriety from Altered, Jamie quit his computer consultant job with Citigroup and went full-time on screenwriting in 2008.

Jamie is one of those writers who stay busy. He writes about five to six scripts a year for pilots, TV shows, podcasts, novels, etc. This justifies why he has a Writers Guild

It takes a lot of brainpower to create multiple plots that are so different in many ways within a short period of time. An example is his 2017 screenplays, The Night Watchman and Tiny Christmas. Two very distinct writing and audiences. 

He co-wrote The Night Watchman with Ken Arnold and Dan DeLuca. It is basically a story of three inept night watchmen, aided by a young rookie and a fearless tabloid journalist, fight an epic battle for their lives against a horde of hungry vampires.

Tiny Christmas on the other hand is about a girl and her quirky cousin who are accidentally zapped by a shrinking ray at the hands of one of Santa’s inept elves on Christmas Eve and they must learn to trust and appreciate each other and work as a team to get back home before Christmas, or risk staying tiny forever.

On March 30th, 2021, he released his third book, Save the Cat!® Writes for TV in which he shares the essence of writing pilots as pitches for screenwriters considering television because more than 80% of jobs in the Writers Guild of America are skewed towards the television.

Nash takes up Snyder’s torch to lay out a step-by-step approach using Blake’s principles for both new and experienced writers, including:

-How to write and structure a compelling TV pilot that can launch both your series and your TV writing career
-All the nuances, tricks, and techniques of pilot-writing: the Opening Pitch, the Guided Tour, the Whiff of Change, and more
-The 8 Save the Cat! TV Franchise Types that will improve your story and your pitch

-The not-so-secret TV Pitch Template that turns your TV series into the necessary read-over-lunch industry document
-a how-to in creating layered characters who are driven by complex internal struggles
-Beat sheets of the pilots of Barry, Ozark, Grey’s Anatomy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, What We Do in the Shadows, Black-ish, The Mandalorian, This Is Us, Law, and Order: SVU, and more to help you crack your story

Create your binge-worthy TV series with Save the Cat! Writes for TV 

We talked some more about his own indie film hustle journey–working overtime to get a headstart in the industry, we also talked about his networking technique that keeps him booked and busy. 

I could talk another hour more with Jamie. He is so candid about his process and the drive behind it.

Enjoy this conversation with Jamie Nash.

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IFH 748: Screenwriter’s Guide to Plotting Stories & Theme with K.M. Weiland

Today on the show we have returning champion author K.M. Weiland. I wanted to bring her back on the show to discuss her new book Writing Your Story’s Theme: The Writer’s Guide to Plotting Stories That Matter.

“Theme Is What Your Story Is Really About.”

Theme—the mysterious cousin of plot and character. Too often viewed as abstract rather than actionable, theme is frequently misunderstood and left to chance. Some writers even insist theme should not be purposefully implemented. This is unfortunate because in many ways theme is story. Theme is the heart, the meaning, the point. Nothing that important should be overlooked.

Powerful themes are never incidental. They emerge from the conjunction of strong plots and resonant character arcs. This means you can learn to plan and implement theme. In doing so, you will deepen your ability to write not only stories that entertain, but also stories that stay with readers long after the end.

Writing Your Story’s Theme will teach you:

  • How to create theme from plot and character.
  • Why every supporting character and subplot should enhance the theme.
  • How to prevent theme from seeming preachy or “on the nose.”
  • What to consider in identifying the best theme for any given story.
  • And much more!

Conscious mastery of theme will elevate every story you write and allow you to craft fiction of depth and meaning.

Enjoy my conversation with K.M. Weiland.

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IFH 747: The Art of Creating Memorable Characters with John Winston Rainey

Today on the show we have screenwriter and script doctor, John Winston Rainey. John is the co-author, along with legendary script consultant Linda Seger, of the book You Talkin’ to Me?: How to Write Great Dialogue. John has written 25 screenplays of which 3 have been produced and 10 have been optioned. He has been a script consultant since 1989 and is the author of Screenwriting Style That Sizzles: A Primer For Polishing.

John had been a writer in the film industry for 35 years and won the Writers’ Guild award for best script. He had also been head of the creative department for three different studios. He is the author of the best-selling book, “The Perfect Pitch.” He tutored John on how to write screenplays that sell, and all of John’s acting and directing experience gave him the ability to analyze dramatic writing with a fine eye and ear.

In the March/April 2003 issue of Creative Screenwriting (vol.10; #2), John’s deeply closeted script analysis service was outed when he was rated the # 1 analyst in the country. Overnight, he was flooded with work. What an astounding experience! Instead of screwing up his courage to call producers, they were calling him! And there is nothing better for learning the craft of screenwriting than to analyze lots and lots of scripts and explore ways of fixing the distractions. John started getting a reputation as a great script doctor.

As a result, he not only became a script consultant in high demand, but he has also taken numerous options (deals) on many of his own spec screenplays. He is told frequently that his scripts are easy reads and he attributes that to the writing style that he has developed, which he shares with his clients, as well as his stories. Even if producers turn down one of his scripts, they frequently ask for other scripts that he has written. He has been through many development (rewriting with the producer) processes. Taking assignments and doing rewrites have been exciting creative measures of his craft.

Enjoy my conversation with John Winston Rainey.

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IFH 746: The Entrepreneurial Screenwriter with Jeff Willis

Today on the show we have screenwriter, consultant, and studio executive, Jeff Willis. Jeff has been in the film business for over 15 years as a writer and executive working on films like Avengers: End Game, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Captain Marvel, and Black Panther to name a few.

Around 30 minutes into the show we begin to discuss the business of screenwriting and more importantly what screenwriters can do to make money and get their stories out there. There are so many options out there for the entrepreneurial screenwriter. Jeff and I talk about the many options a screenwriter has to make money with his or her stories and unproduced screenplays.

Enjoy my conversation with Jeff Willis.

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IFH 745: Screenwriting & Hollywood in the Times of COVID with Greg Gertmenian

Today on the show, we have Greg Gertmenian, who is the Head of Script Analytics and Film Development at Slated. He is also the co-inventor of the Script Score, the only screenplay evaluation tool proven to accurately predict good films. Helped arrange to finance of films like SUPER TROOPERS 2, DEEP MURDER, CRUISE, AT FIRST LIGHT, GOD BLESS THE BROKEN ROAD, BECOMING, and WHAT BREAKS THE ICE.

Prior to his time at Slated, he produced short format content, including the fan-beloved short film BALROG: BEHIND THE GLORY and the award-winning AFI Fest film THE HAIRCUT.

I wanted to bring Greg on the show to discuss Hollywood, screenwriters, and the COVID pandemic, and what we all can do to survive and thrive during these crazy and uncertain times.

Enjoy my conversation with Greg Gertmenian.

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IFH 744: The Screenwriter’s Guide to Video Game Writing with Robert Denton Bryant

I always wondered how someone would get into the video game writing business. Today’s guest is screenwriter/game development guru Robert Denton Bryant and he answers that question and so much more.

Robert Denton Bryant has worked in Hollywood in marketing and production, and in video games as a publisher and a developer. He has been Executive Producer on dozens of games on platforms ranging from CD-ROMs to the iPad, including the bestselling World Championship Poker and Pinball Hall of Fame console franchises.

He is the co-author (with Charles P. Schultz) of Game Testing: All in One and (with Keith Giglio) Slay the Dragon: Writing Great Video Games.

Writing for the multibillion-dollar video-game industry is unlike writing for any other medium. Slay the Dragon will help you understand the challenges and offer creative solutions to writing for a medium where the audience not only demands a great story but to be a driving force within it. Aimed at traditional writers who want to learn interactive narrative as well as game creators who want to tell better, more emotionally involving stories, the book is written by two creative veterans of both Hollywood and “Nerdyhood.” Through lively discussions and self-paced-exercises, Bryant and Giglio step you such topics as the:

  • “No-act” structure of video games
  • Writing great game characters
  • Making gameplay emotionally meaningful
  • Bringing your game world alive

I can’t tell you what an amazing episode this is. Robert takes me down the rabbit hole of writing for video games, the business, how to break in as a writer, and a ton more. Who says you can’t write for both video games and the big screen.

Enjoy my conversation with Robert Denton Bryant.

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IFH 743: The Guide for Every Screenwriter with Geoffrey D. Calhoun

After many requests, I decided to finally tackle the dreaded query letter. I bring back to the show screenwriter, author, and IFH Academy instructor Geoffrey Calhoun. Below Query Letter Checklist and a few areas, we discuss in the episode.

  1. No Snail Mail
  2. Do Your Research
  3. Address the Letter to Individuals, not “To Whom It May Concern”
  4. It’s about the script, not you!
  5. Be Casual but not too casual
  6. Cut to the chase
  7. Don’t forget the Logline
  8. This isn’t open mic night
  9. Its CATS meets The Goonies
  10. Dig through your contacts
  11. Proofread

Some resources to help you with your Query Letter:

I hope this helps you write that query letter. Best of luck and keep on writing!

Enjoy my Conversation with Geoffrey D. Calhoun.

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IFH 742: Writing a Screenplay from the Inside Out with Brian Herskowitz

Today’s guest is screenwriter Brian Herskowitz. He wrote the book called Process to Product: From Concept to Script: A Practical Guide for the Screenwriter.

Like millions before him, Brian Herskowitz moved out to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.  He soon learned that there was a dearth of roles for shorter leading men and began searching for other outlets for his creative passions.  In 1980 he wrote his first screenplay, an action thriller about a young man who moves to Tokyo to train for the Olympics in Judo and gets caught up in an intrigue with the Yakuza.   

Through that script, based on his true-life experience as an international judo competitor, he uncovered a knack and passion for writing.  As a writer, Brian has completed well over a dozen feature films.  His first produced feature was a low budget slasher titled DARKROOM.  He currently has several projects in active development including, THE ABDUCTION, THE EMPRESS OF ELSEWHERE (co-written with Theresa Nelson based on her best selling novel), TAKE A RIDE, and FAIRIES (co-written with Pam Dawber and Andy Tobey).

His TV credits include a staff writing position on the NBC sit-com BLOSSOM, multiple episodes of the syndicated series HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS, and ACAPULCO HEAT, the HBO hit comedy DREAM ON, CBS’s RENEGADE, THE EXILE, MURDER, SHE WROTE, the FOX Network’s YOUNG HERCULES, and CBS’s critically acclaimed was series TOUR OF DUTY (associate producer). Brian co-wrote the FOX pilot MANTIC with Jason Alexander.   In addition, he worked as a punch-up writer on BOB PATTERSON, and LISTEN UP.

Brian currently holds the title of lead faculty in screenwriting for the prestigious  BOSTON UNIVERSITY IN LOS ANGELES – WRITER IN HOLLYWOOD PROGRAM.  Brian has taught online for UCLA EXTENSTIONS and has had students from every corner of the earth. 

Enjoy my conversation with Brian Herskowitz.

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