Posts Tagged ‘Alex Ferrari’

”I think we’re actually in the heyday of [professional storytelling] right now. There is the right medium for all kinds of stories.
—Chris Moore (Co-producer on Good Will Hunting)

“You have so many opportunities now….We’re in a new frontier.”
—Blogger/book author/ Oscar-winning screenwriter/webshow host/Tv writer/musical writer Diablo Cody

You don’t hear the word heyday much these days. But I like that producer Chris Moore (Manchester by the Sea) used it on his Indie Film Hustle podcast interview with Alex Ferrari. There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about this being the new golden era of television. But the phrase ”golden era” has a romantic feel to it. When Moore said we’re in the heyday of professional storytelling it made me pause and ponder what he meant. This is how he unpacked it on the podcast:

”Now there are way more professional ways to be a storyteller than there used to be where you can make a living. That’s the kinds of thing I did as an agent. Maybe you should do this as a novel. Or maybe this would be really cool as a play. Or maybe this is an animated piece because you can do really funny stuff with annimation that you can’t get away with on live action. . . . Think about Good Will Hunting. How would we make Good Will Hunting today? I’m not sure it would be a $25 million movie. It could be a bunch of episodes. It could be a podcast—just Ben and Matt’s characters talking about how the hell to get out of Southie. Kevin Smith could have done Clerks as a podcast and it would have been super funny. I think Kevin’s the kind of guy who would tell you, I just want to tell these great stories about these these characters and situations—and however is best to tell them, I’ll tell them. Anyway, that’s what I think’s interesting about professional storytelling right now. There’s a lot of options.”
—Chris Moore

In fact, Kevin Smith today has the Smodcast website where you’ll find multiple podcasts, info on where to find his movies, in person speaking events, and links to his Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. A few years removed from his 2018 heart attack, Smith is still hustling and still telling stories.

Moore who also produced American Pie said that today that film franchise might simply start of with a series of TikTok videos featuring the actors to gain interest and a wider audience, before it got turned into a limited series. He does point out that some of these storytelling methods are more lucrative than others, but the keep point to be creating. Here are some ways you can put your stories out into the world beyond just film and TV. Ways that could lead to bigger stuff.

Graphic Novels
Story stories
Short films
Stage plays
Audio books
Web Series

In the last chapter of my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles, I touch the importance of these alternative ways to tell stories. Ways that are especially important if you live outside New York and LA. Here are some quotes I’ve grabbed from various blogs posts I wrote going as far back as 2008.

“You need to be very ‘platform agnostic.’ You want to find an audience wherever that audience is. So think about the web, TV, and theaters. Open yourself to as many possibilities as you can imagine.
—Morgan Spurlock
Filmmaking Quote #36 (Being Platform Agnostic)

“Stop calling yourself a filmmaker. Call yourself a storyteller. Call yourself a content maker. Start looking at everything as all the different ways, all the different platforms, all the different methodologies of telling your story and getting it out of there. And don’t confine yourself to one almost archaic form. Now young storytellers will come in and say, ‘This is my series idea,’ ‘This is my long form series,’ ‘This is my episodic series,’ ‘This is my web series.’”
—Indie film producer Christine Vachon on
’Stop calling yourself a filmmaker’—Producer Christine Vachon

”There are so many places to tell stories. I want to tell cool stories and not have to ask for permission.
—Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith is Platform Agnostic

I would highly recommend people make something. If they’re living in Austin, or Iowa City, or Chicago or anywhere, and feel like you have something to say or a story to tell—we’re in an era where you can shoot something for nothing. And if you don’t believe me, go on Netflix and watch Tangerine [a film shot on a iphone that played at Sundance] and you’ll go, “Oh, that can be a movie? Holy cow. ”
—Mike Birbiglia
Waiting to Be Great

“The advice I give for filmmakers starting out is don’t wait for me. Don’t wait for the industry… It’s a mistake to wait for Hollywood to tell you you have a good idea. If you have a good idea, try to make it on your own as cheaply as possible… on your phone.”
Producer Jason Blum (Whiplash, Get Out, Paranormal Activity)
Don’t Wait for Hollywood

“People ask, ‘What’s the advice you’d give young filmmakers?’ And I always say, ‘Don’t try and compete with Hollywood. Take your lack of resources and make it work for you. Look at ClerksEl MariachiMetropolitan, even McMullenSlackers.  All of these films embraced their lack of resources and instead focused on story or style or characters, and dialogue.
—Edward Burns
Don’t Try and Compete with Hollywood

”Make three-minute movies, make a five- minute movies, make webisodes, because it is a maker culture now. And that’s how people get noticed and get movement, with distinct voices and things that are made and not just on the page.
—Screenwriter Clare Sera
‘Smallfoot’ and the Legend of Clare Sera

P.S. Here are a couple of my favorite scenes from Good Will Hunting written by and starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Close your eyes and listen to the dialogue and sound design and see if you think it would have worked as a podcast.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

Read Full Post »

I have a feeling this is going to be Chris Moore week. The producer is known for his work on Good Will Hunting, American Pie, and Manchester by the Sea.

But if you can, track down the DVDs of the first two seasons of Project Greenlight which featured Moore along with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. There are serious filmmaking lessons taught there as two films go through pre-production, production, and post-production. Just two examples that come to mind from memory:

1) Moore takes to task the location scout of Stolen Summer for picking a location to shoot two kid actors where the train goes by every five minutes making it difficult to get a full take of the scene in before they are interrupted again.

2) Elsewhere he criticizes the director for wasting a whole day building a platform in a lake for an eye of God POV shot looking down on a young boy in the water. It could be a brief drone shot today, but back in 2001 it was team of people building a platform. All for a shot that was too over-the-top to be used. Thankfully, just before they wrapped production for the day, Moore recommended to the cameraman that he get a shot of the young boy at dusk just on the edge of the lake just looking out at the water. That shot that probably took a minute to shoot and is what made the film.

Fast forward to the end of last year when he reflected on how the film business had changed since he first began working in it back in the 1990s. Certainly, the COVID pandemic beginning in 2020 affected the whole theatrical experience, marketing, and the changing nature of being a movie star. As streaming companies are having their finest moment as viewers embrace options at home or on their phone, Moore sees a disturbing trend emerging where streamers are just pushing out movie after movie to keep subscribers.

Red Notice [2021] is still going to be bigger for Netflix than a movie that doesn’t have The Rock, Gal Godot, and Ryan Reynolds. But when I use that example when I’m speaking in colleges, what I say is think about It for a second. That should be seen as the example as the end, right? To some extent, that movie should be recognized in our business as the jumping of the shark. . . .They had to have three of the biggest movie stars to get attention. I think those are three of the most charismatic performers we have out there. I did a movie years ago with Ryan Reynolds called Waiting, and he is super entertaining. I think The Rock is so charismatic. And Gal Godot has proved to be charismatic. She can be fun. I go, I’m definitely watching that movie. But when I watched it, I’m like it’s sort of like that phrase ‘It’s all sizzle and no steak.’ It’s fine, it has all the stuff there. But if you’re going to sit down and bring The Rock, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Godot together, you should f—ing blow me out of the water…But the point is that we might be at the moment of volume right now, where all these streamers and everybody want so much product that everyone is jumping the shark. Like the whole business is jumping the shark right now.”
—Oscar-nominated producer Chris Moore
Indie Film Hustle 542, interview with Alex Ferrari

Once upon a time, people used to go to a movie just because Paul Newman, or Robert Redford, or Julia Roberts, or George Clooney, or Sandra Bullock, or Denzel Washington was in it. Today, because of the zillions of movie options (on top of video games, YouTube, TikTok, etc.) there’s a good chance viewers won’t even watch a streaming movie featuring the biggest name actors. And Moore’s point is even if they do, the movie’s themselves tend not to be the prestige movies of the past. The much anticipated Top Gun 2 comes out in May, and it will be interesting to see the response. The deck is stacked in its favor. But if people don’t show up in theaters to see “a Tom Cruise movie”( if there ever was one) look for fewer $150 million budget movies that are star centered.

P.S. And to show that Alex Ferrari was hustling back in 2003, here’s his audition tape for Project Greenlight, Season 2 where he made it into the top 25 of director’s chosen. That video reminds me of a Judd Apatow quote, “If you’re not obsessed, you don’t stand a chance.”

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

Read Full Post »

”You’re having the best moment of your life, and now it becomes the most depressing moment of your life.”
—Screenwriter Shaye Ogbonna on the film he co-wrote being shutdown in production due to COVID

Last week I wrote the post The Road to Sundance is Difficult — Literally which in a sense was about the winter road conditions around Sundance, Utah. Today we’ll look at the difficult road that two filmmakers took to get to this year’s Sundance Film Festival. (The festival is normally held in Park City, Utah, but due to Covid is being held online and satellite screens this year).

Yesterday I listened to interviews Alex Ferrari did with the director and co-screenwriters of God’s Country. The two podcasts are an excellent glimpse into not only getting a film accepted into Sundance, but what it took just to get a feature made—especially since production got shutdown soon after they started shooting because of the global pandemic. It’s a study in perseverance and overcoming obstacles. A reoccurring theme on this blog.

The first interview I listened to was the Bulletproof Screenwriting podcast with Shaye Ogbonna who after film school worked non production jobs to pay the bills, but also created projects and short films on a regular basis with a small collective of creators. Eventually this lead to him co-writing the low budget feature Lowlife (2011) and that led to a staff TV writing gig. But it was while walking on the set of Lowlife (where he was also an actor) that he had shed his imposter syndrome. He gave himself a pep talk.

”‘I’m the brokest I’ve ever been but I’m a writer. I’m literally doing this.’ And from that point on my mentality was different. Obviously, I didn’t come out of Lowlife and immediately get a [film] job, but from that moment on I saw myself as a writer. I saw myself as a creative. And everything else I did was just what you’ve got to do to eat.”
—Shaye Ogbonna

According to Deadline, Ogbonna now has a TV movie (Jumpman) in development and will be writing on JJ Abrams’ crime thriller Duster for HBO Max. He and director Julian Higgins met at AFI and then later in 2016 started the five year odyssey of writing and getting God’s Country produced.

Higgins was raised in New Hampshire and his journey took him to Emerson College in Boston and then AFI in Los Angeles. In 2012 he directed an episode of House. In 2015 his short film Winter Light (based on the short story by James Lee Burke, and script by Wei-Ning Yu) did the film festival route. In 2016, he and Ogbonna began meeting to develop that short story/short film into a feature changing the gender and race of the protagonist. You can hear his interview with Ferrari on the Indie Film Hustle Podcast.

There he talks about explains how they raised funding in 2019 to make a lower budget version of God’s Country with unknown actors, but waited a year for a larger budget with Westworld’s Thandiwe Newton in the lead. His 23-year journey to get a feature made all came together at the beginning of 2020. Which you may recall wasn’t the ideal time to start shooting a movie.

“We were making God’s Country in Montana. We were in that perfect window where we started shooting and three weeks later the entire world shutdown because of a once in a century pandemic. And we were like—of course, that would happen. Are we ever going to make movies again? Much less will we finish the movie. We had to make the decision which was the only solution obviously, to shut down production with about half of the remaining schedule to shoot. And kind of pack our bags and go home with no idea when or if we’d get a chance to finish it. And on top of all the other uncertainty at the time, that was definentaly the dark night of the soul for me.”
—Julian Higgins

But Higgins pointed out there was a silver lining there as they were able to look at the footage shot and make adjustments and elevate the film to be even better when they resumed shooting.

“The journey was making the movie and catharsis we felt when we finished it is the best.”
—Julian Higgins

Getting the film into Sundance (and whatever happens to it after that) is a bonus for Higgins and Ogbonna. I’m sure there are stories out there that are less inspirational. Filmmaker who either didn’t get their film off the ground due to COVID or had production halted and weren’t able to resume shooting for various reasons. But it’s nice to see when it all comes to fruition.

Check out Alex Ferrari’s Indie Film Hustle and Bulletproof Screenwriting podcasts for a deep list of interviews with filmmakers.

P.S. And while Higgins and Ogbonna’s journey to just getting God’s Country produced was an uphill climb, it is not one many can duplicate. They met at AFI which only allows 28 students into each discipline (screenwriting, directing, cinematography, etc.) yearly. On top of that AFI’s website lists the total cost of going to school there (tuition, room & board, supplies, fees, etc) at over $90K per year, or $180k for the two year period. Add in a four-year degree from Emerson is another $200K. Of course there are ways offset the list price of some of these tops schools, but be creative in knowing what you’re getting into.

Both Emerson and AFI are highly regarded schools with many graduates working in the film industry at the highest level. But unless you have full scholarships or someone else paying for college, consider the cost before going into a potential lifetime of debt. At the other end of the spectrum, Quentin Tarantino didn’t even finish high school. Higgins and Ogbonna are two more example of talent, persistence, and patience chipping away at the dream over time. As screenwriter Bob DeRosa said in this post, “There are no shortcuts.”

And here are some additional interviews surrounding God’s Country.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

Read Full Post »

When Alex Ferrari asked WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart (who estimates he’s read over 60,000 scripts in his career) about screenplays that people who want to write screenplays should read, he gave this answer:

“I say this because I use it in my classes—Insomnia. Hillary Seitz wrote a screenplay that was adapted from [the 1997 Norwegian film Insomnia]. The [Seitz] screenplay is much better than the [2002] film. I believe the screenplay for Insomnia—the actual reading experience— is flawless. I would say that is the very best screenplay that I have ever read. I’m not talking about the movie, so don’t go out an watch the movie. I’m talking about reading the screenplay. I think that script was and is brilliant. ’Cause it just does everything that a screenplay should do. And does it so well. And in a fairly complicated way.”
—Christopher Lockhart
Bulletproof Screenwriting podcast #110

Here’s a link to Hillary Seitz’s Insomnia script.

P.S. The 1997 version of Insomnia was written by Erik Skjoldbjærg and Nikolaj Frobenius.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

Read Full Post »

After almost 13 years of writing blogs I did my first podcast interview on Alex Ferrari’s Bulletproof Screenwriting podcast. For my first time out of the gate, overall I thought it went pretty well. Alex did a super job trying to keep in on the topic of my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles. (Otherwise we could have talked about Burt Renyolds for an hour.)

Alex has been building his whole Indie Film Hustle empire for years and has a wealth of screenwriting and filmmaking podcasts, articles, interviews, and courses on production and distribution. Alex is a filmmaker (On the Corner of Ego and Desire) and author of Rise of the Filmtrepreneur: How to Turn Your Independent Film into a Profitable Business.

P.S. I actually hesitated is agreeing to do this interview because it’s a whole different game than crafting a blog post where you can weigh each word your write. You can edit your meandering when you drift off topic. But I’m glad I did it because it lets me know how to prepare for the next one I do—give shorter answers. And it fired me up to record the audio version of my book which I’m editing now. And have hopes to start a podcast in the coming months.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I also think you can learn to be a good writer. Like I was a bad writer, actively bad, and I willed myself to get better.”
Ira Glass
Shakespeare vs. Ira Glass 

If you’ve never written a screenplay before, today is your lucky day. If you’ve never worked a day in production, it’s your lucky day, too.

This is the inspirational follow-up to the sobering post 10 Quotes on Paying Your Dues where several well-known and accomplished writers talked about the long and winding road to their successes.

Because while there was a common theme of struggle with each of those writers, it is also true that on average they started their creative journeys 30+ years ago. Because of unions, a ton of boomers in place, and Hollywood traditions it was not uncommon for those coming out college 30 years ago to be told to get in line.

But a 22 year old today doesn’t necessarily have to get in line anymore. What they need is talent, vision, and access to a digital camera and computer with editing software. There are  vloggers in their 20s making a living (and some even making rock star salaries), and a whole crop of teenagers coming up behind them honing their skills and building a audience.

And as far as I can tell, most of them didn’t go to film school. And as I listen to more and more podcasts I think there is a whole wave of people inspired by This American Life and Serial, that Ira Glass may be more influential than Steven Spielberg by the end of the decade—if not elected president in 2020.

But let me get back to screenwriting for the time being. Here’s some inspirational stuff from Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls:

“The advice that I give someone who’s going to write their first script is write your first script all the way through. Don’t stop. Don’t go back and revise while you’re in the middle of it. You can make notes, but write forward only, to the words ‘The End.’ Write the whole first draft. I say that because I want to prevent people from rewriting act one for the rest of their life. And then I say put that script aside—no, [you]can’t touch it—write a second screenplay. And write that one all the way through, only writing forward, no going back, all the way until the end. And put that second script aside. Write a third script. Same thing—all the way through until the end. You can make notes, but you can’t go back and revise. Put the third script away and take the first one out. Now you’re a better writer for just haven written three scripts. You’re going to approach the first script as a better writer. You’re going to look at it objectively because you haven’t looking at it for a while. Now you’re going to go back and have a more masterful view of what should be done with that first script. And then you’re going to apply the same thing when you go again to the second and third script.”
Screenwriter Jim Uhls (Fight Club)
Indie Film Hustle podcast interview with Alex Ferrari
(Alex’s podcast is full of solid information on indie filmmaking, including his own micro-budget feature journey—This is Megthat he’s currently shooting.)

And if it will helps take the pressure off, I have quoted screenwriters and filmmakers on this blog who said it’s okay if the writing sucks. You don’t even have to show it to anyone. (Sheldon Turner said he wrote 11 screenplays before he ever showed any one a single one.) You don’t have to go to film school. If you have a desire to write, write. Write those three in a whirlwind like Max Landis and you’ll have written those three screenplays by the end of the year—heck, maybe before Halloween.

P.S. And if you don’t want to dive into writing a screenplay, then in my next post I’ll take a glimpse at Jessica Abel’s podcast Out on the Wire and see if we can get you to start developing other kinds of stories this week in whatever unlikely place you live in the world.

Related posts:
How to Write a Screenplay in One Day
Schizophrenic Screenwriting 
A Drink Before the Fight—Screenwriter Jim Uhls
‘Fight Club’—The First Punch
Start Your Own Writers/Actors Workshop
Don’t try and compete with Hollywood—Ed Burns
Bad Script, Good Pizza, Great Feedback (Ira Glass was a producer on Don’t Think Twice)
Ira Glass on Storytelling

Scott W. Smith 


Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: