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

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

His new film “Get 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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