In this episode (Part 1 of 2) I’m excited to have uber independent film producer Suzanne Lyons. She has been living in the indie film space for over twenty years. Working on SAG Ultra Low Budgets to over $15,000,000 budgets she has seen it all.
Suzanne Lyons takes you by the hand and walks you through what it takes to produce your first feature film. She goes over the pitfalls, legal concerns, deliverables, selling to foreign countries and most importantly of all how she gets her financing for her feature films.
She laid out such amazing information that I had to break the episode up into two parts. I spoke at one of her famous indie film producing workshops and learned a ton while I was there. Suzanne Lyons also wrote an amazing book called Indie Film Producing: The Craft of Low Budget Filmmaking. I suggest you all pick it up. It’s better than film school!
Alex Ferrari 0:00
So today's guest is Suzanne Lyons. She's an independent producer have known for a few years, she's done. Over a dozen feature films produced over a dozen feature films, and wrote a book called the indie film producing the craft of low budget filmmaking. She lives in the low budget world. Even though her some of her first films were 10 or $15 million or more. with huge stars, she's actually made her bones in independent film and low budget independent independent film The 5 million and below budget film. So Suzanne was giving us such amazing information that our interview went almost an hour and a half. And what I've decided to do now is anytime it breaks an hour, 10 minutes or so, I'm going to start breaking it up into two parts. So people have a chance you guys have a chance to, to digest it all. And you don't have to sit down for a full hour and a half to enjoy it. You can break it up into 245 minute pieces. So this is going to be part one of our interview with Suzanne Lyons. Enjoy. Thank you Suzanne for coming on to the indie film hustle podcast we really appreciate it.
Suzanne Lyons 2:02
Oh, you're welcome. I'm excited.
Alex Ferrari 2:04
So can you tell the audience a little bit about yourself?
Suzanne Lyons 2:08
Oh my That's a hard question. Because you know, I like to talk but no. Okay, sorry, Alex. Yeah. Anyways, I've been in the industry now I came out my husband I came out here in 93 wanted to be here for the earthquake, you know, 94 I miss anything. That's funny, that's not that bright. But anyways, so we came up with the intention where I was going to jump right into features and he was going to jump into into you know, television. And then I got sidetracked, you know, as you know, for a number of years for probably about five or six or seven years, just because I started teaching marketing because I found it was missing in the entertainment industry, it was driving me crazy that people could not get out there and promote themselves. Nobody was thinking of themselves as the president and CEO of their company. You know, people were saying, Oh, I'm gonna wait to my agent gets me a job I'm gonna wait to my manager gets me a job. Oh, it's not my job, Suzanne, that's my attorneys job to manage my life. And it just made me crazy that people kept, you know, handing their power over, you know, from their life to somebody else, and really disempowering themselves. So my background was a lot in marketing. I was VP of Marketing for a TV network in Canada for years and years, before we moved here. And so I started this company with Heidi wall called flash forward Institute. Back in 1994. I literally have been here three months, and we started the company. That's how much it was driving me crazy. And even watching my husband, you know, who was just this amazing writer, amazing writer, who came out here, we came out we were in Philly for five years, and he had 17 feature scripts and TV scripts in his, you know, in your case, right? Honest to God, they sat in the closet, because he kept waiting for the agent to call. He waited two and a half years, you know, my phone, I'm not lying. And I kept saying please take my class, please take my class within, within literally three months of taking the class. He was on staff at the Highlander series and that was almost 20 years ago and yeah, I remember that. That was a showrunner and I mean he's now a showrunner and he's doing Steve has been going strong ever since then. So I kind of got sidetracked and then my business partner in film Kate Robinson I started in 98 I think it was we finally started snowfall films and develop some screenplays and then in 2001 I think it took us about three years to kind of you know launch our first film and and we did and it was great. It was a little bigger than planned in terms of the actors and in so on, and it was called undertaking Betty and we shot that in Wales our first one so I kind of my very first thing was learning International Co production and then I did another International Co production, Jericho mansions. Those first movies were were like, you know James Caan and john via bujo and Jennifer Tilly and then Chris Walken, and Naomi Watts and Brenda Blethyn and Alfred Molina and Lee Evans is really great Robert Pugh, really great, great, great people. I had the privilege to work with and then jumped right into Bailey's billions of kids movie so from romantic comedy to thriller to a kids movie with Dean Cain which was so much fun and who else oh my god anyway some other great names in it and then came back and did help do the financing for another project called the heart is deceitful above all things and so that was great experience so that was with another bunch of huge stars so those my first four movies were all bigger than what Kate and I had planned usually people start you know at a little one and move on so
Alex Ferrari 5:36
Yeah, I was gonna say it sounds a little like yeah my first my first independent film Yeah, we went to Wales and then we had these stars in it yeah I'm like this is a fairly non traditional way of doing things but I'm assuming you learned so much in those first few movies
Suzanne Lyons 5:52
Oh my god it was honestly because to do that five to 10 million which was not our plan trust me at the beginning you know it was like being thrown into the fire and thank god there were two of us because to have to be able to have somebody to bounce things off of you know it was it was it was really tough you know to go through that learning curve at that budget level with those kinds of actors but we were older you know, I mean it's not like we came out here you weren't easy Yeah, exactly. I was in my you know, probably early 40s at that point and and I just thought no kind of took one day at a time and and I'm all about kind of trying to relax and have some fun and and made sure that no matter how crazy things were getting on the outside that people didn't need to know about on set you know that what we were dealing with with the studios and financing lawyers and attorneys and all of that stuff till two in the morning I get up and get on set you know at eight in the morning and smile and bring candy to everybody and you know take the actors to lunch and you know I acknowledge the crew every day and you know I just made sure that people knew as little about all the chaos as possible and just job that's the job of a good producer. Yeah, really I mean it was all about let's have some fun let's be creative let's you know let's make a great movie here. And so just making sure everybody was looked after and didn't feel the stress and strain and that's something that we took home with us and made sure we stopped at the grocery store and picked up a bottle of wine to help with those calls with all those attorneys around the world. Right right. And everything and eventually I think that bottle of wine became a case of wine at one point I think daily daily would stand outside Yeah. Put it in the trunk for us.
Alex Ferrari 7:27
Oh they're back looks like they need a drink. So you were saying that so you were saying that your budget for that first movie is between five and 10 million which is almost a unicorn at this point and non existent budget at this right is it right what is it that the budgets generally top up at like two to 3 million tops right now and then and then it goes into 20 plus right?
Suzanne Lyons 7:51
That's right because then once you hit a certain number then you're you know then it doesn't make sense anymore because you'd need to have well Tom Cruise you know or be need to be at the studio level which is you know 20 and over so I encourage people to do the lower budget ones in fact what Kate and I did after those first four just kind of it all happened you know, simultaneously as England was kind of shutting down their incentives which affected the rest of the world dramatically because that was kind of the base for a lot of us as indie producers because that's where that first 40% came from and then you attach on another country and then you do your gap and pre sales back then member the pre sales those exist anymore No but they did then in a big way. So you know Germany was $500,000 Spain was 500,000 I mean you know, before you even blink you know if you had a couple of actors on board you know we did 2 million in pre sales and then our investors were two and then you know then we have a gap and you know from the Lulu Horowitz I think everybody used back then that was that gap but you know a lot of the a lot of the money was soft money that you would shoot you know get from from the various countries and the incentives and so on so really was not very hard that the structure was so beautifully set up at that time. And Kate and I kind of had the benefit of starting at a time when we were able to use that those incentives in that structure in that format but then when that shut down in 2004 just this is completely ironic but what happened at the same time as section 181 was passed after six years of the Directors Guild you know a lobbying in Washington that job creation act for the entertainment industry for the investors to get 100% tax write off at that certain pay you know, scale of course was was a godsend and something we haven't had here I think since the 70s in the US so Kate and I were able to come home you know with our wonderful husbands and and who we missed because we were doing a lot of shooting in other places. But to come home and be able to to shoot on American soil was really fun for a change and and then some When the state started adapting you know what Toronto what Canada and the UK and Australia and Romanian those countries were doing by creating these incentives and you know you'd have you know a lot of different states i mean now many many states but back then you know there was a couple of them which were great also the union's started to really work toward stopping runaway productions so they started making it doable you know here to be able to hire sag actors you know, which of course you couldn't at the budget levels that you know, we were wanting to come back and work on. So it was really fun and then at that point, the horror films were very very popular so Kate and I said, you know, what's let's start doing Sega ultralow $200,000 budgets, quite a change from 9 million but but it was so much more fun because you know, we still have to put your name in there or your you know, giant spider or something. But it was a you know, you it wasn't as kind of crazy as it was when you know, shooting that the bigger budgets and the stress that goes with that I'm not saying it's not a big job and still takes, you know, a year or two of your life, but it was a lot of fun. So we did four of those right away in a two year period after coming back and then the market Of course, you know, collapsed like everything in the world. And you know, when that recession hits. And so I use that time to write a book for focal press called indie film producing, I started doing blogs I think I did sorry, video blogs, which were I think I did 125 of those which are online and call the 10 tip series I did three and a half years worth of monthly newsletters called the 10 tip series. So I started using all those, the courses I used to teach in Flash forward and turned it all into a 10 tip series just for fun, it was all free. And then they started teaching an indie film class, which is what the book was based on for about three or four years. So I kind of had some fun there I still did a movie in the midst of the recession. Probably one of the only people I think 2010 New Orleans SIOP, which was great fun a children's movie, and that budget was around 5 million so that was a little bit bigger and some really wonderful people that I worked with on that as well
Alex Ferrari 12:10
Now in 2010 you had a budget of 5 million
Suzanne Lyons 12:14
I know Isn't that crazy? That's nice It's crazy, but it was with the WWE and there they were really wanting to shoot all their movies in New Orleans at that point. And their budgets were all pretty similar three to five across the board and
Alex Ferrari 12:32
Oh yeah that's the WWE yeah like the the marine and
Suzanne Lyons 12:36
Yeah, the wrestler yeah the wrestlers Yeah, sure. Sure it's right in our brass. We had it Yeah, we had Triple H was ours. Okay. The dad and Ariel wind bus
Alex Ferrari 12:44
Right on the market. He's, yeah, I saw the trailer. I saw the trailer that is Yeah,
Suzanne Lyons 12:50
It's totally cute. We had a very great director and great writer it was it was a really really adorable movie Ariel Winter from modern family. She was a little girl at the time. Oh, my God, she was 12 I think so that was great fun. So I did that in the midst of just kind of taking time to like I said, Do these video you know blogs and, and write my book for focal press and, and that sort of thing. So just kind of regrouped and had some fun and then decided, you know what was next and then what I did after that was started working on another project that shot two years ago with Susan Sarandon and Donald Sutherland and Topher Grace and some wonderful, incredible people. And then right after that, I got a call from our visit has gone into pitch to them a few around that time, actually 2013 I believe I went into pitch. And about a year later, last May I got a call saying would I come in and kind of do their first genre film for them. So they chose one of the ones that I had already had by Laura Brennan phenomenal writer. So I went in in my line producer on a bunch of my other movies join me as a producer this time and we went in and did that last fall, which was so much fun. It's called most likely to die. Of course, my God. We kill people in such great ways. You've just got to when it comes out, you have to see it. It's so much fun. As long as you don't get too scared, I barely could watch it during the screening here and I knew it was gonna happen and I was scared. Close my eyes right. And then I just finished a movie with Mark Rossmann. I've been worked on it work with Mark for years now on this project called time toys, and bought a group of boys who are 13 year old kids who find a chest of toys from the future so that we're in post right now literally meeting with sound designers next week. We have our composer we're doing spotting next week on that on the music and doing the visual effects at the moment. So our goal is to be have the movie complete by mid December. So we're yeah heavily into post at the moment. So
Alex Ferrari 14:53
You're so you're a busy lady.
Suzanne Lyons 14:55
Yeah, that was my 12th just finished my 12th film. Yeah. In that time since yeah 2002 so it was it's been it's been fun so now I'm kind of just taking a little bit of a break now that I'm in post and seeing what's next you know I just am looking at what's the next direction you know is it doing more of the of these that are kind of under a million to say modified the StG ultra lows having some fun with that still? Or is it going back to more of the of the bigger budgets you know, I mean, there's in fact one of my friends you know, who's on partnering with me on a project is at a meeting today with investors in Northern California and that's a $15 million budget because it's based it's based in World War One so
Alex Ferrari 15:41
A while but I'm assuming there's some stars involved with that
Suzanne Lyons 15:44
Yeah, yeah that will be that will be bigger Yeah, they're out there already. We'll see how that pans out right now it's we're trying to do this independently of the studios Okay, so yeah, and the gap because I mean, we were apart I mean, the studios were interested but it meant a tremendous amount of changes and we're trying to see if we can stay with the storyline given what couple of stars would like to stay with the storyline so we'll see you know, if not, then we can always go back to the studio, but I'd like to see if we can have some fun with this but I'm not in any great hurry. Like I said, I've got I've got the fall committed to to post on time toys and, and yeah, so that's, that's where I'm at right now. I'm not I'm really kind of almost taking a little bit of a break. Well, thank you. I'm not reading scripts or anything at the moment. I'm just focusing on one thing, we're just nice virgin.
Alex Ferrari 16:34
Thank you for taking the time out to do the podcast. I appreciate it. Welcome. You're welcome. And I go back a long way we have we have Yes, absolutely. So let me ask you, can you explain to the audience the two hats that a producer must wear when working on a film?
Suzanne Lyons 16:49
Yeah, it's great. You mentioned that that's actually the chapter I think that's first chapter of my book, okay. Because I think the problem I think, why Kate and I kind of started fairly successfully versus some other people who were you know, who we knew at that time. A lot of people that we knew at that time is because we both come from business because we were a little older and she was a stockbroker. You know, her background was was that and mine was a VP you know, so I wouldn't conferences in business and taking programs in business my whole life I even taught business in Philadelphia if you can imagine to small businesses there. So my background was so business oriented as was hers even though she was a brilliant writer and she had won the Chesterfield fellow I mean, the biggest you know, Spielberg competition ever and, um, you know, it's not that we weren't creative, but we really knew early on that you couldn't just be creative. Yes, you had to have a great script. Yes, you had to develop it. Yes, you had to wear that creative hat. And that was critically and crucially important, but at the same time you know, you had to wear the business hat I would say equally it's called show business. And the word business is even you know, double the number of
Alex Ferrari 18:01
Letters of show
Suzanne Lyons 18:05
Ever saved to Kate that must mean something you know, so we really paid attention you know, when it came time to opening our LLC we did that properly. You know, I read ppm like crazy operating agreements. I learned I took courses legal courses at UCLA on entertainment law, from Mark lick whack just to make sure I could read contracts even though we had an attorney on the first film, I wanted to know what everything meant. I literally typed my own ppm 26 pages and my own operating agreement 26 pages were 27 pages because not because I couldn't copy you know somebody else's template or whatever print out a template. I wanted to force myself to know every word honestly. And then even after I typed it and printed it, I read it again and I probably read it 20 times since and I put those you know, I mean, I those were part of my class that I used to teach on indie film producing you know, I just think all of that paperwork is so important the minute that you start talking deal with somebody write something up, do up deal memos, I would see so many people when I started teaching the classes, you know who whose movies fell apart because there was no option agreement done. There was no deal memos are also saying that person's my friend, or that's my sister, I'm not going to do an option agreement with my friend or my sister. I don't care if it's your mother, you know, you do an option agreement. You know, so I really knew early on that the legal elements were critically important and the business aspect was very important. We did a presentation a sales presentation, I couldn't even find a template for a good sales presentation. They were so fly by night I even went to other people's sales presentations, and was almost embarrassed by them to tell you the truth. And I said to Kate, you know, we've got to do this properly. So I created a phenomenal template for a sales presentation. extremely successful. I have to admit, we probably raised the money for those film's in record time compared to well oh my god i mean compared to other people I know people talked about there's you know the same budgets as ours back then the 200,000 and I remember years later meeting up with those people and they were still talking about it and not taking the proper action so I think we just went about things in such a professional way that once investors I think they when we were on the phone or in person with investors or at a presentation I think they just saw that we were people that they could trust with their money you know, we were serious we were business women you know, we were going to take this very very seriously and do everything we could to try to get them their money back as well as make a creatively good movie and have some fun doing so you know, if that's what's the point, that's exactly when we were also very open that's the other thing because anytime I did up an operating agreement or a ppm or a business plan of any sort and when I was in sales presentation of any sort, I always stood in graciousness and generosity and abundance because what happens in this industry even a couple of my early mentors, I remember listening to and thinking this is not okay, they kind of stand in scarcity and lack of abundance and it's kind of me against them and there's not enoughness you know sort of thing going on and I think that a scarcity mentality is what's going to kind of kill you and you're not going to be an opening to great possibility so when I would be with investors and you know one of my investors for example was saying one time you know, I'd love to put a you know, buy I'm thinking of buying a share on your movie Suzanne and but you know, I just wanted to see if it would be okay you know, a couple of my sons are are musicians and they'd love to write a song for the end roll credit and of course I said yes right away but I was an opening for that conversation if I had been one of those people where you know, like shutting people down like so many times you see happening he wouldn't have even asked me that question he ended up buying three units three shares in the movie because he was so excited and he and his wife came out to the set you know, and another guy you know, bought six units because I offered the possibility of being an executive producer. You know, I said, if you buy six or more units, you can have an executive producer credit on not just on the front roll on a single card, but also on the building block on the posters and DVDs and so on
Alex Ferrari 22:27
Is your question. What is I don't mean to cut you off, what is a block or unit is using,
Suzanne Lyons 22:34
Like a share? Like let's example if I'm selling 35 shares on a movie that some Oh, here's another y'all I'll just answer that. And I'll go back a little bit to because a lot of times just going back to the business hat versus a creative people would say, Oh, well I had my line producer make up the budget, you know, when the budgets 165,000 so I'm going to raise 165,000 But what they don't realize is on top of that you need operating expenses because what's not in that budget are going to be things like you know, your attorney, your photocopies your sales presentation getting the room you know, the table read room, like a lot of those kinds of things. So you need to set aside a little money for that your taxes you know, your $800 that go to the state your accountant for that first year afterwards, because no money is going to be coming in yet. You know, so all that also delivery, nobody ever thinks of delivery, which is around $25,000 I know that alone is $5,000. So you know, and then finder's fee, you know, you know, back then it was called finder's fee now to be probably associate producer fee for those people that are part of your team. They're also introducing you to investors, where you're going to be giving them you know, a percentage. So that was set aside. So my instead of the $200,000 budget, my I raised 262,500. And what I realized when I did the math and I kind of worked the numbers around the math because I was at the time doing accredited and non accredited investors, you know, people that make a lot of money, obviously 200,000 or more. And then my next door neighbor who was a teacher, you know, I wanted to go to both. So my units were only 7500 or shares, you know, as you would call them. So I had 35 of those. So I did the math to get an even number and it came to 262,500. So that's what we raised $200,000 was the budget and then of course you had your delivery which came much later. And you know the operating costs was paid for it. Like I said your taxes for next year and things like that. And, and then and then any kind of finder's fee or today would be called associate producers fee for people on your team that are introducing you to investors and you're getting to know those investors and so on and I made everybody active by the way. Everybody was active people always worry about passive and active investors. I made a point of putting everybody to work, not just my finders, but my investors. I mean, one woman called from Denver, Colorado. An investor is and she said, You know what, what do I do now I've sent my check in. And I said, Oh, I said, Well, how are you at ironing? She said, I'm okay, I'm a mum. And I said, good. I said, Well you come on out to the set and I'm going to just put you in with the costume designer and you're going to have a ball. And she did and she iron for two solid weeks.
Alex Ferrari 25:21
And she was just it's just like I'm in the movie business a ball and
Suzanne Lyons 25:25
Her daughter came out and her daughter was in the movie her daughter was in all three all the all those movies, we killed her daughter multiple times just changed her hair color and threw back on set again. And, and the same thing with one of my other investors, a great guy who owns a lot of businesses here in Burbank, and he and his son are in every scene, we just would change their their look and throw the back in and kill them again. So, I mean, we had, you know, people really had fun, our investors had a great time they came, they flew in from New York, from Seattle from Denver. I mean, they really had some fun and and like I said, I put them all to work, you know? So that's kind of how I did my, my presentation is standing in abundance, what do what harm does it do to if you bought three units, you'd get an executive producer credit on a shared car, you know, I mean, that when the six unit thing got a lot of people excited, because a lot of those people this one millionaire from Philadelphia, he wanted to start his own film company, but he had no credit. So this kind of got him involved, got him, you know, entered, you know, educated a little bit, got him a credit on a movie, you know, got him on the billing block on the poster. So he was unable to then promote that when he was then going out to do his his first film. So it was a win win for everybody. And it's sad that people don't think like that, you know?
Alex Ferrari 26:43
Yeah, they're always just trying to think about themselves or like scarcity, as opposed to abundance. I see what you're saying. Yeah, exactly. So what do you what do you look for when you're hiring a director? I know that's a thing. A lot of directors like to, to know, myself included?
Suzanne Lyons 26:56
Yeah. And yeah, um, I and I made some mistakes along the way. And, you know, just so you know, I think what I'm always trying to tell people is that, first of all, I'd like to, I want to always see the vision, you know, when Kate Knight would interview a directors, for one of just one particular project, I remember, it was fascinating to hear the vision, you know, how far off of you know, we thought they were from the script, you know, I mean, how completely far off and sometimes how amazing was their idea is how it added to the script and enhanced the script like crazy, which is what you really want, that's what a director is all about, is how are they going to enhance it? So to me, it's like, you know, what is that vision and I think, as the director coming to that meeting, is really kind of get a sense of, you know, a really clear sense of that vision, you know, before coming to that first meeting and, and seeing if you're kind of on par with what you think, you know, the producers are looking for, and that sort of thing. And also be honest about where you're at, in one place, we had a director who had come from television, great television director, and it not not in the US and different country and, and he was very well known for that, and very good. But what he didn't tell us was he hadn't, I knew he hadn't done a feature yet, but we didn't know his level of insecurity. And I don't even know if he knew so maybe he wasn't going to be honest with us because maybe he didn't know the level of his insecurity. But even if he knew a little bit I wish he had shared that with us because I find you can deal with anybody as long as you know their weakness because then you can all work together on the strengths so what happened during that movie is that he screamed and yelled at people on a daily basis for weeks. Really hard on the crew really hard on the cast to go through that abuse and obnoxious behavior for that long and unnecessary at all of our ages all necessary at any age. You know, it's not even elementary school Is it okay? And where you might see some of it on a playground there. But this is not the playground you know, that you get to play in at that age. This is a playground where people want to be empowered and inspired to be their best be creative, and it shuts people down you know when they're being abused. So you know if he even if he had said Listen, I'm nervous girls, you know, I'm nervous about going into this. I'm brilliant at television. I think I can be brilliant at this but I need the team I want the support you know I want my support of everybody if on the first day if he said listen guys I need everybody's support. You know I've worked with directors since who have said that who literally said I want your support. I don't know if somebody has a better idea please let me know because here's the way I see it and here's my vision, but I'm open you know, I'm cuz it's my first time doing this or my first time that you know or even you know, like, I was I was teaching a class the other day where they were doing a q&a to a writing class. And that readers were asking the same thing as you know, and I saying, Listen, if you're an asshole, there's nothing wrong with it, just tell the person up front, because we can all assholes that at some, it's some degree, right? We've all got those insecurities and fears, God knows. But if we tell each other, if we kind of tell one on ourselves and say here, you know, here's an area that I know that I'm working on right now, because it's a weak area, and I'm strengthening that so I can be the best person I can be. I'm a great writer, or I'm a great director. But you know what, when it comes to certain skills with people, I'm not as great I'm great with actors, but sometimes with crew, I'm a little bit short with crew and Suzanne, I'm working on that right now. Because I'm not gonna let that happen on this movie. And if you catch me, being an asshole, call me on it.
Alex Ferrari 30:49
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. Now back to the show.
Suzanne Lyons 31:00
You know, I mean, that's we have to support each other in bring up those strengths, as opposed to hiding them because when you hide them, then those insecurities rear their ugly heads when you're on set. So sometimes we don't know until it's too late. And until we've signed those contracts or whatever, and then you have to live with that. So my thing would be I say is just be honest with people, you know, do your best work treat people like gold on set as directors. I mean, most of the directors I've worked with, like I said, have been fantastic. I would say 95% of the my relationships with those directors and their relationships with cast and crew have been amazing and empowering and inspiring. So I mean, I just went to see Sean McNamara's movie last night I went to the opening of the Burbank Film Festival, which was so great and he's and I was chatting with all the cast and crew afterwards and and they were just saying what an honor it was to work with him because he just was so treats people so great that they just want to be their best every time they come to work. And like I said, I just finished the movie with Mark Rossmann. And the same thing. You know, where people were saying the same thing and I watched it before my eyes, you know, where they were just being their best because he was kind of setting that stage for people to you know, to to be empowered. So
Alex Ferrari 32:16
Let's just say, life's just too short to deal with.
Suzanne Lyons 32:24
And the older I get the more impatient I am with people about that. Really, I'm like, Listen, let's just all be honest with each other. We've all got our flaws, let's use and, you know, take each other's advice on strengthening those areas. And let's just do the best we can do and make the best movie ever.
Alex Ferrari 32:41
Too short. Do you know the comedian of Wanda Sykes?
Suzanne Lyons 32:44
Alex Ferrari 32:45
You never heard of Wanda Sykes?
Suzanne Lyons 32:46
No, I think I've proved that I haven't seen
Alex Ferrari 32:48
Okay, so Wanda has this great bit that she tells about it she's like I can't I'm not gonna curse but she's basically says as you get older you just don't give enough you just Yeah. Like things that you really cared about a 20 you could care less about 40 things you cared about a 40 you could really care less about a 60 and so on. That's why older people that just don't just they do the crazy the walk on public and underwear like I don't care Yeah, I'm 85 I don't care i'm getting really good at all to me um look I'm in my early 40s and I'm in that I'm in that I'm like oh my god the stuff that I will put up with it when I was in my 30s in my like I couldn't I couldn't even look at now so yeah,
Suzanne Lyons 33:31
Exactly it's so true and it's all about empowering each other so absolutely your best in this industry you know it's not about belittling each other but
Alex Ferrari 33:39
You're but you're a rare producer in the film business I have to say because I've been I've been in this game for 20 years and I've worked with a lot of producers a lot of filmmakers as a general statement but as a producer just the way you speak about the process is so unique Believe it or not that I'm I'm in I'm in power just listening to you about it. No seriously like most most producers don't think the way you do so that's a it's really refreshing so so let me ask you another question. What is uh what what are some things that turn you off when you're reading a screenplay? I know that could be a whole podcast by itself
Suzanne Lyons 34:19
Yeah but just well one of the I it's funny I just two Fridays ago I was doing a q&a you know with a writing group so with screenwriting you hell brought me in to do a q&a and the asset question and the I think couple things that came right to my mind for me was to to kind of be the same thing with with producing and directing and makeup artists and anything is no your trade. Yes, a lot of people think they're great writers. But they don't know the trade. You know, I got a script recently that was 170 pages. I
Alex Ferrari 34:56
Could have. It didn't have Quinn Tarantino's name on it. If it did.
Suzanne Lyons 35:02
So I called the writer he was in New Jersey. And and he said, and he said, I know is not great, you know, we like he was very proud of himself. I said, Have you even read another screenplay? Did you? You know, go online and find some or buy some, you know, did you? Did you take a class in it? I mean, did you do anything other than just, you know, write this? And he said, No, no, no, no, because I had my own ideas and my own vision for how I wanted it to look and I said, Are you sending me the 5 million to make this movie is there you know, is there something that goes with his insanity? And he said, Oh, no, of course not. I'd like you to you know, develop and then raise the money and call me back in a couple years, you know, go and take some classes and I recommended books and classes and but I'm not. I don't I shouldn't be the one recommending that. It would be equal to me telling you Alex that I bought a new set of knives. They're not great. Okay. One of them. You know, they're not that sharp got my heart surgeon. And Alex, if you don't mind, okay, I let you know, since we know each other and hopefully you trust me a little bit, then it's not that sharp, like I said, but I'd like to practice on you if that's okay. I haven't done any training as a heart surgeon. It's something I'd like seen
Alex Ferrari 36:17
Suzanne Lyons 36:20
I did I want so you can feel confident in that, that I watch I did watch one episode of VR where they were doing a heart thing, just one episode though, just a piece of one episode, right? Like this guy hadn't even read another script, right? That's what I mean, as I'm talking. Wow, Suzanne, you're insane. But yeah, that's what I get all the time. It's like, Well, no, no, you know, and then sometimes they'll come with the breads that are those little skinny breads where they fall out the minute you open the screenplay, I'm thinking if you don't care enough about your profession, that would be like me handing out packets at my sales presentation to investors sitting there, you know, with messy, you know, crooked, you know, labels on it, or, you know, in typing mistakes, or, or that sort of thing. I mean, it would be equivalent to all of that, not to mention what I see in scripts, sometimes with the typing mistakes, and all kinds of spelling mistakes. And I'll say to the person I found, you know, about five or six spelling mistakes in the first five pages, it's Oh, yeah, they said, I know I said, but I hope you overlook that. Because I really want you to know the story and thinking, but I kept being taken out of the story, because I kept having to correct your spelling. So you know, it's like, How can I be present in the story, when you don't even care about my hour and a half of time that I'm going to take her two hours to read this. So I couldn't even be present. I give it 10 pages at the most and if I find those kinds of problems, I stop, because it's like, if somebody doesn't even respect their track their their craft enough, then you know, and my time enough, then why continue? So those things sound like they would be so simple, but yet I have to tell you, it's I would say probably 80% of the screenplays I get are like that,
Alex Ferrari 38:02
Because most, most most people want to just want the they want to be on entourage, they want that lifestyle, but they don't want to put the work in and don't want to learn a craft. Yeah, and I think a lot of that has to do with just people not not wanting to do the hard work, which Yeah, this is a really hard job. I mean, we're not digging ditches, but it is it is a hard, you know, a hard gig to to make a movie.
Suzanne Lyons 38:26
It is and I think with writers too, is they don't see it as, as a collaborative process. You know, I mean, if you're gonna send me a script and be prepared to have notes, because I'm somebody who's on the other side of the table, I'm in there talking to studios and agents and, and people, you know, in sales agents and buyers around the world, I go to markets, I mean, I kind of know what's what's needed. And so if you're not open to the notes, or anybody's notes, then they should be writing poetry or novels or plays, right, you know, don't be writing screenplays, which end up becoming something that you know are probably it's probably going to be 20 rewrites later it's, you know, gonna be good enough to send out to the investor You know,
Alex Ferrari 39:10
There's very few screenplays or screenwriters have who have that kind of power to maintain that screenplay. As is I remember I just read the Unforgiven. That was one of the only screenplays that clints ever not touched. Like it just literally did. It did it like verbatim not one thing was changed in the script. So it's one of those words, can you imagine but you know, a heck of a good screenplay to say the least.
Suzanne Lyons 39:35
Yeah, yeah, exactly. But you're right I mean, a lot of times even those really really good ones that you think that's the way it started out probably went through what somebody was telling me I think how at the meeting at screenwriting you a couple weeks ago, somebody mentioned something like 62 rewrites or something, some famous movie that we've all seen, but I guess by the time it got there, it had gone through that because, you know, things change over the years too, and And you know so who knows but I mean if they're not open if people aren't open to that and aren't open to that kind of criticism and then sometimes people will send me scripts and I'm going What did your coverage person think? Have you already done the rewrite based on your coverage person? And they would say what's covered
Alex Ferrari 40:16
Suzanne Lyons 40:18
And they said well we were hoping that you would give me I said I'm not a reader I'm not a coverage person are you paying me? Are you paying the last person you come to write? Exactly if you
Alex Ferrari 40:27
Are you're going to hear a funny story I actually at school I had a professor of mine who was the associate producer on pretty woman. He knew Gary he worked on happy days with Gary Marshall so that's how I got on pretty woman and he told us the story of the script which I don't know if you know the the lore behind the the Pretty Woman script as we all know the movie just you know, monster hit a classic now. But when it was first written, the screenwriter called the script is called 3000 bucks. Wow. And at the end of the movie, Richard threw the Julia Roberts out of the car. Yeah, and literally tossed the 3000 bucks in her face and drove off that was ending I did hear that part. Yeah, that was the ending and the guy when Gary came in and rewrote it all the screenwriter was like this is horrible I can't believe this is not my vision blah blah blah. After it made $200 million at the box office he's like that's all my idea and he got ugly and he got a four picture deal out of it so it was just oh my god but that's that's the way the business
Suzanne Lyons 41:32
Rolls exactly look it goes Same thing with ghost
Alex Ferrari 41:35
I mean, I don't know that ghost lately. I didn't know the story what's the ghost that was that was a
Suzanne Lyons 41:39
Very very very very dark movie. And then I don't know who was the director of the studio or where his
Alex Ferrari 41:44
Injuries the airplane guy the airplane had airplanes and they could go Yeah, Jerry's are suckers
Suzanne Lyons 41:50
And that's when they mentioned the whole twist on it about bringing the Whoopi Goldberg kind of character and creating that whole comedic thing and lightening that whole element up and and just more user friendly you know, because it was not that supposedly to begin with not even close from what I understand but I don't know the whole story but I mean and look at now i mean that ended up being one of the most amazing you know, movies I think I've seen it probably five times just like pretty woman five more exactly where yo if you had mentioned that I probably wouldn't have seen it even probably once the first time you know it was given what you said
Alex Ferrari 42:23
Is that of course that so often what so what is the proper way writers or filmmakers should submit the work to a producer because I know that's a big kind of mystery
Suzanne Lyons 42:32
Yeah that's well that's the other thing too and that's what I The thing that I was going to mention is you would not believe on a weekly basis or sometimes daily how many emails I get I don't know the person from Adam I swear to god why not? Sometimes it doesn't even have it'll say Dear Sir or Madam or EULA most the time dear sir I'm thinking what century is that person from right right first of all dear sir sometimes Dear Sir or Madam but there are maybe you know maybe you know miss you know, you know, you know snowfall films, but sometimes my maybe my name, but once again, even if it's you know, dear Suzanne or Hi, Suzanne, I've got this great screenplay. I, I don't know who they are. I don't know anything about them. There's been no relationship base whatsoever. And secondly, a lot of times they might have gone on my website and saw that maybe, or say maybe on I don't know, whatever site and saw that. I may be shooting a horror film. Let's say it was last October, November, when I was doing the horror film from our VISTA. I was getting a bombardment of horror films. Well, by that point, by the time I was finished shooting, I was done killing people for a while, you know, I wanted to move into something fun, I only kept saying to people was you know, give me a family film or a romantic comedy. That's all I want to read right now. is, you know, family faith, or, or, or romantic comedy. And but yet everybody was enough. But if somebody had taken the two friggin seconds to call or email and say, What are you looking for? Now? I hear you're doing a whore. I happen to have some horror, but you may be thinking you may be tired of that. What are you looking for? Because I'm assuming genres? Or is there any, you know, I mean, just I don't know, just something or create some foundation of relationship. I mean, at one point when I was teaching the flashforward workshops, I used to get some or any workshops I used to do speaking engagements, hundreds of speaking engagements, all over. I mean, there's I don't think there's any place I haven't done a speaking engagement in these last 20 years. And on the break, people would say, oh, Sam, I you know, you mentioned you were producer, I'm an actor. Here's my headshot. Oh, Suzanne, you mentioned your produce. I'm a composer. Here's my reel. Okay, I'm a I'm a DJ, here's my, and I'm thinking, well, Who the hell are you, right? Christ and then tidy, but sorry,
Alex Ferrari 44:54
It's about relationships. It's a bit about building a relationship with at least the connection of some sorts.
Suzanne Lyons 45:00
Have some sort of first order of business I used to teach business in Philadelphia and the very first thing they said if your business I promise you will fail if number one is relationship first you know then there was possibility opportunity and the fourth thing the last thing was action. The first was relationship the last is action, but people would reverse it into action first and finally it got to the point where it made me so insanely crazy that I said to Heidi at one point my business partner and flash forward Institute I said Heidi, I can't take it anymore we have to create a program called the relationship seminar because people have to get the distinction relationship or they're going to continue to fail and I can't be part of it anymore can't watch it it just breaks my heart not to mention make me crazy so on the plane to New York as we were going up to teach a class up there we designed this program six week program called the relationship seminar and here's what it was in a very simple simple way I'll tell you what it was I'm done winning oh god probably 15 years anyways I should because it was so damn much fun Yeah, or more than 15 years but and even now more than ever oh my god I honestly I people literally because how I think did it when I was in when he was asking me questions last week in that class and he said oh my god, Susanna, it was so much fun. It was a huge class and you know what it was was six weeks long. The homework was to have a party every week for six weeks. I didn't care if the party was with three people at Starbucks or 300 people in your backyard I didn't care but it had to be a party. And for six weeks you are not allowed to talk about your career are not allowed to pitch yourself or your projects unless somebody asked you if somebody said you know what do you do Alex and you could say well you know, I'm a director and so but you were not allowed Alex to for six weeks not allowed to tell anybody else you did not allowed to talk about your resume not allowed to Pitch Anything like that. And it people were just freaking out I remember out crying with 160 people in the class 162 I'll never forget it do huge seminar and people were like oh my god screaming at Heidi and I and Jordan saying we can't do that and you know we've moved out here from Idaho to you know, to start my acting career and what are you saying and screaming and you've been nobody walked out because I said there's the door guys right? One person left and I said okay, is that a promise that I made everybody signed a contract. And and and I said but you know, have a party and those of us that have parties of things that you love to do, because out there in the business world when the guys are getting together on Sunday morning to go golfing they're not talking about their business right away. They're talking about golfing. They're talking about the football game that's played yesterday they're talking about their kids, their wives the food that they ate like the dinners that you know I said you know you've forgotten who you are for the love of God you forgotten out of conversations you forgotten talk to talk about your hobbies and your loves and your passions in life outside this industry. That's what creating relationships all about. That's what outside the city in Hollywood, outside our little you know, borders, people talk about their lives. We don't do that in here we are god damn resumes.
Alex Ferrari 48:12
That's what my wife says. She's like, I can't go to a party with you anymore. Because every everybody's like, what do you do? Here's my next project, blah, blah, blah. She's like, I can't stand it.
Suzanne Lyons 48:20
Yeah, Isn't it crazy? no place else, no place else in the world. No other industry in the world? Does that people create relationships first, and then they take actions? Well, honest to God. So let's say for example, you loved whitewater rafting, and you knew that I liked whitewater rafting. And you knew Alex that I knew that studio exact that was looking for a director who you wanted to work with. Right? So you're saying that you know that she likes whitewater rafting too. So we all go so you invite us all to go. And the reason I'm saying Yeah, and you say Suzanne, please invite your friend and I'm okay with inviting my friend because I know that you're not allowed to hit her up for any directing gigs, right? Because you're not allowed to talk about directing. Right? Unless she asked you so we all get together and then we go have fun whitewater rafting, or we you know, for In my case, I'm a rah, rah cooking kind of chef right?
Alex Ferrari 49:11
I'm actually vegan. So that's a really interesting,
Suzanne Lyons 49:13
I mean, I've taken lots of programs and you know, classes on on Raw cooking. So you know, I would have like minded people can I be able to say to my actor friend who knows that investor that I've been wanting to meet, you know, bring them along. I know he's vegan, too. And I know that he's looking at raw and I know you're raw vegan. So let's get together and I'm gonna you know, we'll do three or four different recipes together, and it will be a fun Sunday afternoon. And I'm not she doesn't have to worry that I'm going to hit up her friend, you know, on a project because we're going to talk about bacon and Ravi and food, period. That's it, and just have fun, and just have some fun. Then if something happens, here's what's interesting, Alex at the end of the first two weeks, I mean, I'd been leading flash forward at that point for probably eight years, right. And that was a week a month long course where you set a goal and you had a full team where you Know that helps you accomplish that goal and get that agent or get that job or whatever, right? In two weeks of this one new course, we had more people get jobs, I think then all the eight years of flash forward combined, it was frightening. I mean, and nobody was allowed to share themselves. This one guy said he was going to New York, on the airplane, sat beside the guy. They talked all the way there five hours, six hours, talked and talked to talk. He said, I hit it up with his man. He said, we just had the most great fun time, then we watch a movie, then we chatted more, can just chat about life and everything. And he said, then we were starting to land. And the man said, oh, by the way, can what do you do back in LA? And he said, Oh, he said, Well, I'm a writer. Oh, he said, Really? He's the one my producer, what are you writing? But the guy asked him, and he's he's allowed to say it, right? But for five hours, they had already shared about life and
Alex Ferrari 50:54
Build a relationship.
Suzanne Lyons 50:57
Relationship. Exactly. So if we could, if nothing happens, but people get this today from our talk, yeah, you know, I think that in itself is a miracle. And that in itself is gold. You know. I mean, it's just a way to live life, then you'll get more jobs, sell more scripts, get more directing gigs, get more dp gigs, more of that than anything else combined.
Alex Ferrari 51:23
I hope you guys enjoyed that amazing interview with Suzanne, if you like this interview, part two has even more amazing information on it. She is generally a wealth of information. And I loved reading her book indie film producing the craft of low budget filmmaking, I'm gonna put a link in the show notes, as well as other links to her personal site and other things like that to get a hold of her. So don't forget to head over to filmfestivaltips.com. That's filmfestivaltips.com so I can show you my six secrets to how to get into film festivals for cheap or free. Got into over 500 international film festivals. And I give you all the goods on how I got in. So thank you so much, guys, for listening. Thank you so much for all the love on iTunes, and all the downloads and all the shares the podcast, and the website is growing substantially very, very quickly. And I'm very grateful and humbled by that so you keep listening. And I'll keep creating some great content for you guys. So don't forget to come back for part two, which will be released in the next day. Thank you so much, guys, and talk to you soon.
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- Suzanne Lyons IMDB
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- IFH: Guerrilla Indie Film School
- Indie Film Producing: The Craft of Low Budget Filmmaking – FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSION
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- Six Secrets to getting into Film Festivals for FREE!