Wednesday, March 30, 2011

One Creative Motherfucker! An interview with Merrel Davis on Branding

Today has the pleasure of chatting with Merrel Davis founder of Screenwriter Karaoke a monthly networking event for new and veteran screenwriters.

GL -
Merrel, Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Please tell us a bit about yourself – How did you get interested in screenwriting?

MD - I took a long and meandering journey to through several industries to get to Los Angeles. It began in the soulless depths of a government contract office in Washington D.C. In case you haven't done your own empirical study, every terrible cliché about government work and office work you can imagine is true. The number of dead souls wandering among the living outside of the pentagon number in the thousands. My time in “job prison” was not without benefit; I was able to reflect and cultivate my storytelling, put my toe into the water, save money and then ultimately move to New York City.

The screenwriting portion of storytelling, was a natural progression for me. I'd been involved in other parts of production and post-production (I actually wrote about that here: "Become a better Screenwriter through Post-Production") I found myself editing short films and comedy skits that frankly, weren't very funny. I had a sort of an aha! moment which went something like “why am I polishing their turds? When I can polish my own!”

2009 was an important year for me, it marked the real transition into “screenwriter.” I wrote a feature script that, while not produced, was solid enough to get me in on scholarship to several screenwriting workshops and conventions. I sold a series of animated scripts overseas, and then in 2010 my short script “Obsolesk” won best science fiction script at AIFF, all while I was working as production staff on a NAT GEO television show.

While in New York City I began a monthly networking event called “Screenwriter Karaoke.” I was looking to have some no-pressure hang time with like-minded industry peeps. So, I started Screenwriter Karaoke; it's an easy way to come and meet other screenwriters and filmmakers, have a couple of drinks, and sing a couple of songs. Since the inception of Screenwriter Karaoke, I've taken it to events such as The Great American Pitch Fest and the Creative Screenwriting Expo

Now here in LA, I've seen attendance triple and lots of great new faces coming out every month.
Our next Screenwriter Karaoke event is April 2011 in Los Angeles.

GL - Branding? What do you mean when you say a screenwriter needs to “brand” themselves?

MD - It's tough as ever to reach the dream. The talent pool grows and grows and at any waking moment in LA there is a cacophony of writers clamoring recognition and livelihood. When I say a screenwriter needs branding, it means they need to effectively set-themselves apart and above of their peers. Good writing is vitally important, not much can be done without a solid foundation, but so much is how you present yourself in the context of your good work.

Before we get too deep, let me say, “branding” is a broad term, some people believe a brand only applies to your body of work directly, I am one of the many people who believes your brand is not only your work, but your personality, your brand is how you carry yourself in the marketplace, and that marketplace is partially online. Your brand is the essence of you, presented for consumption and extends beyond just the subject matter of your craft.

I've encountered countless writers and filmmakers who have good work but have lacking presence in meetings and person. Balancing artful business with your cultivated craft, that is your brand.

When a client approaches me and says “Merrel please brand me” the first thing that I tell them:
Managing your brand is kind of like thinking the way a literary manager would, but with a targeted focus on online branding and printed material.

Your brand includes current and previous bodies of work, websites, online presence, business cards, accomplishments, awards etc. – my job is to synthesize and cohesively set-forth a brand that truly represents the client.

Generally speaking, a client comes to me or my partner (see for story notes and development, we sort them out, and then ask when and where they are pitching (or even if they even are.) Based on whether it's an indie or a studio film we then devise a plan for online.

GL - But I just want to write, why should I spend so much time working on my image?

MD - “But, I just want to write” is a nice way of saying, “No one has compensated me well for my writing yet, and I resent that.” This isn't about image, it's really about effectively letting people know who you are and what you do.

What's the first thing anyone is going to do after they meet you? If they are interested, they'll Google you or IMDB you. If somebody Googles your name what comes up? Facebook profiles, a genealogy chart or a navigable body of professional work?

Web presence is vitally important for this reason, everyone has an iPhone or an Android phone, it literally only takes 3 seconds to call up information.

GL - What are some of the do’s and dont's of branding? Are there any?

MD - Last year, I wrote an article “WTF! 10 lessons I learned about the entertainment industry in 2010.” it covers a lot of my lessons learned in conducting business in Los Angeles.

When it comes down to it, authenticity is the best policy. But don't over-do it! Here's a snipit from my article: “There is nothing more noticeable than the stench of desperation in the room. Los Angeles is the city of 'keeping up appearances' and the way you carry yourself is as important as the message you carry. That’s not news, but be very careful not to confuse candor and aspiration for desperation, or the other way around.” Don't be that person!

With regard to websites it's very important to have one. If you already have a site here's a list of no-no's. If you do any of these, I presently hate you, but we can be friends soon I hope!

- An entirely FLASH based website is the bane of my existence. The flash renaissance is over, often you can't skip the intro, it's not as easily searchable by “the googles,” and flash doesn't work on hand-held devices such as the iPhone and iPad. Also, auto playing music or video is just bad form. Give the user a chance!

Lastly, don't use Blogger or Blogspot websites for your film. NO! Get your own website and email, the days of hotmail and AOL are out. It's hard to take someone serious if their email address is and similarly if they have a free hosted website on blogspot.

GL - Ok, so now we’re standing out from the rest of the crowd? What next? What if I’m not ready for my new found attention? What steps should a new writer take to get themselves ready to be the focus of a producer’s attention?

MD - The best steps you can take to ready yourself for the attention of a producer or anyone else for that matter, is to have a solid track record and body of work that is easily found and consumable to somebody who is just the slightest bit interested. It's amazing how much ground you can cover with a link to your website, a writing sample, and an IMDB link. It shows prospective colleagues, managers, agents and producers that you are aware of what is required of you, and oh by the way, here it is.

GL - Should your brand extend into your writing style?

MD - Your writing style IS a large part of your brand. What you write about will help you decipher how to brand yourself. That sleek dark, grungy website may be good for the Phillip K. Dick inspired spec, but not for a teen comedy.

GL - How has being a “Creative Motherfucker” helped your career?

MD - Yes, it is actually true that my business card has one of the seven dirty words. I think Carlin would be proud, I mean if he weren't turning over in his grave, that motherfucker!

Seriously though, my business card has landed me countless meetings, facilitated immediate connections, and just looks damn cool. It is the ultimate litmus test; there are three outcomes, they: 1) Look at my card briefly, not long enough to take it in, then tuck it away quickly. 2) Look at my card and read my title and become aghast. Or 3) Look at my card, see my title and laugh.

For people who respond like #2, you just saved me some time. For people who did #1, it shows me a lack of interest, where as people who actually look at it love it. So, I guess being a creative motherfucker has its advantages for sure.

GL - What kind of projects can we look for from @UncompletedWork?

MD - On every horizon things are looking up!

On the web side, I'm building a website for an academy award nominated writer/director. On the producing side of things I'm currently in pre-production on a reality / docu series. My latest script, an unnecessarily, overly-complicated time-travel romp is in the throes of a reoutlining. When I'm not working I'm usually berating myself for not working while playing Call of Duty: Black Ops.

GL - Merrel, thanks again for taking time to share your knowledge! We look forward to seeing you at #scriptchat Sundays at 8pm EST.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jeanne V. Bowerman (@JeanneVB) On Adaptations

Today we have the pleasure of chatting with Jeanne V. Bowerman co-founder of the #SCRIPTCHAT Twitter group for screenwriters. Jeanne calls herself a recovering insecureaholic, but if anyone has had the pleasure of chatting with her on Twitter, you quickly come to understand that @jeannevb is one of the most learned and helpful Tweeps you'll ever meet. Today we get to chat with her about her experience Adapting the Pulizer Prize winning Novel Slavery by Another Name - Douglas Blackmon.

GL) Adaptations are notoriously difficult to write, they’ve even made a movie about it! What drew you to this project?

JVB) First of all, I absolutely loved the film ADAPTATION. I watched it recently, just to see if there were any real-life similarities. I’m sure I laughed at all the wrong places, mostly because I’ve been to Robert McKee’s three-day seminar. I even follow author Susan Orleon on Twitter… though she doesn’t have a clue who I am. :)

As for what drew me to this particular project, I’ve given that a lot of thought. People often ask why a white girl from a small country town in Upstate New York would be interested in neoslavery. I wasn’t conscious of the answer until I was deep into writing the first draft. While writing, I realized I was more drawn to the brutal plantation scenes of the African Americans than I was the affluent world of the white Southerners. While I would never begin to compare my life to slavery, I will admit, there are times when I have felt trapped in a world or role I desperately wanted to free myself from. I related to that sense of helplessness and lack of control. More importantly, I want the truth of our nation’s history to be told. That responsibility weighs heavily on me. I want/need to do this story justice.

Beyond the personal draw, there was also a professional one. I wanted a challenge. I had written lighter romantic comedies prior to that, and in truth, I don’t even watch rom coms in theaters. I prefer foreign films, indies, dramas and subjects that move me to my core. I needed this challenge. I craved this. I knew the minute I found this book, I had to adapt it. Period. This was the one.

GL) What are some of the challenges you encountered along the way?

JVB) There were many, but the biggest was simply finding the story to tell. Yes, there was a book to work from, but this was no ordinary book. It covered 70 years of our nation’s grim history, with many examples of how African Americans were unjustly enslaved after the Civil War. We could have chosen any number of protagonists, but we had to find just the right one. I’m confident we did.

GL) Knowing that not everything can make it form page to screen. How do you make the hard decisions about what stays and what goes?

JVB) We used a combination of Doug’s expertise and my naiveté of the subject. The very first thing I did was scour the book, page by page, making a list of facts that emotionally moved me. There were so many to choose from that I literally broke the binding. Then we focused on the ones that would move the protagonist’s story forward. But, the biggest challenge was avoiding the temptation of making it a history lesson. The book will be a documentary on PBS in 2012, so that freed our minds a bit, knowing that was a platform where the history will be discussed. Our goal in this feature script was to tell the moving story of a the man who tried to stop slavery in 1903, bringing the very first white plantation owner to trial for holding slaves, forty years after the Civil War. If it didn’t fit in that spectrum, we cut it.

GL) You’re writing the screenplay for SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME with the author of the best seller, Douglas Blackmon. Novels and scripts are very different animals. How have you blended the two writing styles?

JVB) Doug was amazing. He has a background in theatre, so I could tell from reading his book, he already wrote in a visual way. He was also incredibly generous, and far more liberated than most authors in being open to changing the story. Oddly, I was the one who was more resistant to straying from the facts. Perhaps it’s because Doug had spent so many years writing it, he was ready to move on to a new way of storytelling, and I was stuck in the "oh my God, I can’t believe this happened" mode. But once I opened my mind, we went wild. Some of the best scenes in the script are ones we used creative license with.

As for blending styles, we made a decision after completing the 31-page outline that I would write the first draft. That way we had a consistent voice and a blue print to start from. When I finished it, I sent it to Doug, and he added his mark. His style is verbose, and mine, very tight. So our fit was perfect. He’d add; I’d cut. But he was never territorial about my editing his words or vice versa. We are a team, and more importantly, we are professionals. I’ve never worked so well with another writer before.

GL) What advantages are there to working with the Author? Any disadvantages?

JVB) In a story like this, Doug was my research man. He had spent 7 yrs in the basements of courthouses throughout the South, going through stacks of papers. If I had a technical question, I just called him. He is also the most humble man I’ve ever met. Here he is the senior national correspondent of The Wall Street Journal and a Pulitzer Prize winner, yet he never once pulled rank with me. This was our project from day one. I’m still amazed by that.

Honestly, the only disadvantage was his insanely busy schedule. WSJ responsibilities always came first, as did his speaking engagements, and of course, his family. But just to steal an hour here and there, I’d go to any town I could to hear his speeches. I wanted to watch the audience’s reaction to his words, making certain we were capturing what people were most curious about.

GL) How is writing with a partner of any kind different from writing a solo project? What are the good the bad and the ugly...?

JVB) Writing partners is a subject for an entirely separate interview. I have a lot to say about that, having had four, one being my teen daughter.

Good: someone to brainstorm with and feed off of. Film is a collaborative process, so why not start at step one? Writing with someone certainly gets you comfortable with compromise. The trick is to compromise without feeling compromised. Often, there’s a fine line.

Bad: you never have total control of your story. Egos can get in the way.

Advice: I always make a rule that the project comes first. If there’s a disagreement, we ask, "Is this what is best for me personally, or is this what is best for the project?" Writing partners are like a spouse. There will be days you love them, and days you want to smash their face in with a baseball bat. Having said that, I’d go the writing partner route again, but I don’t ever want to write with just one person as a permanent partner. My taste varies so much that I prefer to play the writer field. I would absolutely write with Doug again though. We recently discussed an idea for another historical drama that’s very graphic and violent with a strong female lead. When we mentioned it to Joshua Stecker, West Coast Editor of Script Magazine, he laughed and said, "Just wondering, do you guys have a comedy in you?" Love that guy. Actually, Doug is very funny. We might just have to try writing a comedy together someday.

GL) What makes a good adaptation? What should a new writer look for when scouting for gems?

JVB) Story, story, story. No matter what happens in the book, you have to find the story that would bring people into the theatre and keep them in their seats, preferably glued, for two hours. To do so often requires cutting major parts of the novel. I was once advised there was no point in doing an adaptation unless you were going to put your mark on it, and make it your own. I found that interesting, because as a reader, I’m always annoyed when the movie is so different from the book. The truth is, no matter how you slice it, an adaptation often doesn’t live up to the imagination of a reader. Some stories should stay on the page.

As for what to look for, author and screenwriter Chuck Wendig wrote a post recently advising choosing short stories to adapt instead of novels. When I read that, I had an "I should have had a V8" moment. He’s right. They’re certainly more prone to adaptation, since they’re already tight and concise. I’d also look for amazing characters, ones you can evolve and put through boatloads of conflict. Make sure there’s a moment in the story when your protagonist is on the bathroom floor (figuratively, of course) and has to make a choice that will make or break him. Push that sucker to the limits.

Also, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call an author. That’s what I did with Doug. Just called him out of the blue. Sometimes it works.

GL) How do you know you’ve done the material justice? When do you know you’re done?

JVB) I’m not sure there’s ever been a moment when I didn’t question if we did the material enough justice. It’s such a powerful piece. Every single day of writing the first draft, I cried. The tears were for the people who were enslaved and for their ancestors. Our number one goal in all of this was to speak the truth. That responsibility weighed heavily on us. Not a day went by when I didn’t ask myself "are we doing the African American community justice?"

It’s been six months since we officially "finished," and I’m in the middle of the latest polish, focusing solely on dialogue. Doug would agree that whenever we step away from the script for a month or more, we read it and see things we can change. The trick is knowing when to stop and put your baby out there. We have purposely not papered the town with the script, wanting it to shine to its full potential first.

GL) What can we look for from @jeannevb in the future?

JVB) This is my official announcement that I’ve been invited by Script Magazine to be a regular contributor to their website, discussing the life of an unproduced writer. I’m totally jazzed to share not only my own projects, but also those of other screenwriters, discussing various ways to break in. I want to focus on out-of-the-box personal stories to energize writers to get creative in their quest to be produced. It fits in perfectly with my Twitter Pimp Angel style. My goal: to get an email someday that one of my posts sparked the idea that helped a writer take another step forward. If we can’t support each other, what’s the point? I realize there are a lot of selfish people in this industry, but I do not intend on being one of them. Ever.

Beyond that, I’ll be writing my fingers to the bones. My business card reads "writer of things". I don’t care what it is, a short story, novel, screenplay, short film… if it can move you, I want to write it. Currently, I’m finishing up a quirky family comedy, purposely keeping it low budget. If I can’t find a production company to make it, I’ll do it as an indie. With all the talented creatives I know, I’m confident I will make this one happen with or without a studio’s help. As for the short film, director, Mike Bekemeyer, and I are working on one, inspired by a lover’s quarrel I tweeted out from Starbuck’s one day. Beyond the film world, I’m finishing up my first novel, THE RING THAT BINDS. It’s based on the true story of my friend who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease and the four women who cared for her. Don’t worry, it’s not all sappy and depressing. It’s full of humor. I have several agents waiting to read it and plan on adapting it for film as well. I have more irons in the fire I can’t speak about publicly yet, but my fingers and toes are crossed for my writing to finally bring in a steady paycheck.

GL) Any last words of advice and encouragement for new writers?

JVB) It sounds so cliché, but never give up, even if a tidal wave is drowning you. There’s no room for self-sabotage in this business. Wussies are the first to drown. So surround yourself with a writing support system that can be your life raft. For me, it’s all the writers of Scriptchat, especially the treefort: Jamie Livingston, Zac Sanford, Kim Garland and Mina Zaher. Seriously, I don’t know what I’d do without them. When any of us hit a wall, the email boxes ping back and forth until a solution is found. The support fuels me on. In truth, I’m not one who needs a lot of cheerleading. I have no problem hunkering down and doing the work. But when I hit a snag, having them to brainstorm solutions with is invaluable. Get a system like that of writers you respect and trust. Oh, and get a therapist :)

Also, don’t ever think you’re bigger than you are, and do not ever act out of desperation. Both are terribly unattractive. No matter where you are in your career, you have something to learn. If you’re feeling desperate, then that means your work isn’t good enough. Get your ass back in the chair and make it better.

Put forth positive energy, work hard, help others, and the karma will all come back to you.

GL) Thank you so much for taking part in this interview with, it was an honour and a pleasure. See you on Sunday 8pm EST for #SCRIPTCHAT!

Friday, March 19, 2010

TV Pilot update


So I've been busy packing up my house. (I'm moving next weekend)... But I have managed to do a little writing here and there. My problem is I'm over thinking everything. Instead of writing I've spent a lot of time analysing other Pilots. i.e. The Pilot for a show called Reaper. I'm in the process of dissecting it, and going over it with a fine tooth comb in order to decipher the secrets of a pilot. The same with the pilots for Buffy and Supernatural... It's almost an obsession...

I am learning a lot... You should read as many scripts as you can get your hands on. Thankfully I have friends in the industry who feed me scripts and new stuff all the time! I am truly grateful for that!!! And I also have friends who are able and willing to guide me and tell me when my writing sucks and when I'm on the right path. Of course... you can't always trust your friends to provide you with honest feedback. Obviously the care about you and your feelings so... ALWAYS HIRE A PROFESSIONAL!!! My is Xandy Sussan of She's GOOD! And a bargain at $150. I trust her to be honest and thorough, and she is witty and sarcastic. So we mesh personality wise... Find someone you mesh with... If you're not in tune with your reader then they won't get you and your writing... It'll be like brushing your hair against the grain! BAD IDEA and all you'll end up with is a big mess.

Anyway... off topic...

I'm also starting to flesh out ideas for my next feature... I think I'm ready (i.e. I have the skills) to write it. It's called Breakfast With Tiffany. Check out the logline for more details... I'm also gearing up for a complete overhaul and rewrite of Ghost Hunter. In its current state it's a bit of a mess... BUT you can go to and download a copy to read if you like... It's a hot mess and I know it... the concepts are sound. I need to fix it... I added a lot of weirdness to it 'cause I started a failed re-write before I finished the first draft... Nightmare...

AND I still need to do a little work on Blood and Roses and Losing Faith. They need some punching up... But other than that... :) check 'em out here

In the meantime... the outline for my TV Pilot is still not quite there... I am anguishing over the fact that its been 6 months and I have yet to write a word of dialog. I have it on good authority though that my efforts to perfect this outline will be quite beneficial when I sit down to write the first draft... I certainly hope so - it's killing me!

Anyway... I'm going to stop rambling... I have far too much to do, and not enough time to do it... NEXT Month however, I am off for 3 wks (surgery). So perhaps, in a painkiller induced state I will rattle off a few pages and actually get someone this writing done!


- G

Friday, February 19, 2010

Weekend Update with Gord Rogerson

Ok... So I've been EXTREMELY busy trying to get the 2nd Annual Script contest sorted out for The website. We're absolutely ecstatic that we have 3 wonderful sponsors so far this year!!!

They are providing some amazing prizes for the contest that will provide our writers with some much sought after industry exposure.

I'm about 12hrs away from finally finishing the outline for the Pilot I've been working on. Having never written for TV before, there has been a bit of a learning curve. Although I have 30+ years of viewing experience I am finding it difficult to find the soul of the pilot. Thankfully, I have good friends who are not afraid to tell me when I suck (actually I think some enjoy it a little too much). So I've been listening and absorbing their comments and working with the ideas they are imparting in order to create something that is engaging, fun, exciting, and complete awesomeness made physical... Needless to say... its taking me a while to be awesome. BUT... I'm almost there. A few more hours tonight and tomorrow and I'll finally be able to start putting words in people's mouths.

I have also had the opportunity to get some more interviews for the site worked out. I am in the process of crafting some good questions for another interview that should be posted soon. Good times! Lots to do and keep me busy...

Meanwhile in my personal life... I'm moving! So now that I don't have any time at all to myself... ;) No it's good. The new place is huge, open, has multiple floors, and a basement I can turn into a video studio... I have an idea for a web series called FALLING. That's all you get... Just the title... and that its a one camera show that can be filmed in a basement. :)

Anyway... That's the update. Stop by for more details on the 2nd Annual Script competition...


- G

Thursday, February 18, 2010 2nd Annual Script Contest

We are pleased to announce the 2nd Annual Script Contest

May 30th, 2010 (early); July 30th, 2010 (regular); September 30, 2010 (late)

Semi-Finalists: October 30th, 2010; Finalists: November 30th; Winners: December 15th, 2010

Our mission at is to provide new writers with helpful insight and tools to make there writing better.

Open to all writers 18 and over.

Entry Fee:
$25 (by May 30, 2010); $35 (by July 30, 2010); $50 (by September 30, 2010)


* Open to all writers 18 and over.
* Limited to first 500 entries
* Screenplays must not have been previously optioned, produced, or purchased prior to submission.
* Screenplays must be original work of applicant(s).
* Winning screenplay submissions written by 2 or more writers require all awards to be divided equally among the writers.
* Screenplays must be in English.
* Entrants must submit a completed entry form containing a Synopsis and Logline, screenplay and the appropriate fee according to the posted deadlines.
* Multiple submissions are accepted but each submission requires a separate entry form and fee.
* Finalists must then submit the entire screenplay within 7 days of the posted Finals Announcement\Notification.
* Finalists screenplays must be between 85 - 120 pages and be copywritten or registered with WGA\WGC. - Writer(s) should retain 1 copy of original script.
* is not responsible for screenplays lost in cyber space, or stolen. (but if you have paid, and your submission is lost we'll work it out if you can provide the payment details.)
* Judges decisions are final.
* Electronic submissions only via the online entry form and email.
* Prizes may not be substituted unless agreed upon by the writer(s) and
* reserves the right to cancel the contest due to lack of interest. Any fees collected will be refunded promptly to the Writer(s). Notification of contest cancellation will be made on the day following the Final Deadline. (Threshold is 25 entries min.)
* Submission of entry form and fees implies explicit acceptance and consent to the contest rules as listed above.


All Selected Finalists will received written feedback from the judges.

1st place

* $150 Cash Award
* Certificate of Achievement
* Prize package
* Save the Cat! Story Outlining Software from
* Notes from the Contest Judges
* Dedicated Promotional Page on
* More to come...

2nd Prize

* $100
* Certificate of Achievement
* Prize package
* Copy of Crafty Screenwriting: Writing Movies That Get Made by Alex Epstein
* Notes from the Contest Judges
* More to come...

3rd Place

* $50 Cash Award
* Certificate of Achievement
* Prize package
* Copy of Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
* Notes from the Contest Judges

Honourable Mention

* Certificate of Achievement
* Prize Package
* Notes from the Contest Judges

Thursday, January 21, 2010 - An excellent chat with Writer\Director\Producer Justin McConnell

Today has the pleasure of speaking with Justin McConnell Writer\Director and CEO of Unstable Ground a cutting edge Media company in Toronto, Canada.

Thank for joining us.

TGL - Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into the film industry? What first attracted you to writing and directing?

JMc - This may be a cliché answer to start an interview with, but film is in my blood. I may not come from a filmmaking family exactly, but they were a family of movie lovers. I both thank and blame my father for where I am today – had he not snuck the staple horror/edgy flicks past my mom from a relatively young age, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. Thanks to him exposing me to “classic” (debatable, I’m aware) titles like Alien/Aliens, the Predator movies, Critters & Gremlins flicks, Argento (I wouldn’t recommend trying to watch “Phenomena aka Creepers” when you’re 12), and the first of it all, Monster Squad – the doors were opened that made me into the wonderfully twisted individual I am now.

From there it just became a mission – watch and study film (I mean really study it), make a bunch of cheapie shorts, film school, starting my own production/post company, and just working with the nose to the grindstone. If you want something bad enough, you just put everything you’ve got into it, and hopefully it works out.

TGL - A couple of years ago you wrote and directed a short called "Ending the Eternal" that tells the story of Samuel Gradius an ages old Vampire looking to put an end to his life. Since then it has spawned a Graphic Novel and you'll be shooting a feature length sequel called "The Eternal" later this year. Was that always part of the vision for Samuel Gradius? Did you intend to tell his story in three parts or did that evolve with the success of the short? Tell us a bit about the new project.

JMc - Samuel Gradius’ story was more an evolution than a solid plan. The first incarnation of that short I actually wrote back in high school (circa 1999-ish), as a short story called “Musings of an Ancient”. From there, the first draft of the script was written all the way back in 2003. Around that time I was shooting a feature-length documentary called “Working Class Rock Star”, and it pushed development of the idea to the backburner until 2007, when we finally said “Let’s just get the money together and make this bloody thing”. At that point my long-time writing partner Kevin Hutchinson and I sat down and started really breaking down and producing the short.

Waiting until then turned out great in a lot of ways – we had very little to make the short (less than $20K) – so it connected us with a strong team in it for not only money, but the art (special shout-out to our DOP Pasha Patriki). It introduced us to a great non-union (at the time) actor named Adam Kenneth Wilson. We first met him during the audition process, and he brought so much to the character from the get-go that we decided we had to expand Samuel’s story. We were so impressed with Adam once the short was finished that we asked him to join us as a co-writer.

From there it just grew and grew. The feature idea came first – we finished the first draft of the script in mid 2008, and started shopping for finance. At a certain point we realized just how difficult the indie market is right now, so decided we needed an edge – and the graphic novel idea, “The Eternal: Final Dawn”, was born.

Out of everything the graphic novel has been the most interesting for me from a writing perspective. We are writing it as the 500-year history of the character, a prequel of sorts. In doing so, we’ve managed to flesh out a really detailed world in which Samuel and “The Eternal” exist. I also got to put on my historian cap, and research a lot of myth/legend/history to weave into the narrative. The thing nobody knows yet is the other larger elements at play in Samuel’s story – elements that also weave through our other upcoming films “Deliver Us” and “New Generation”. We want people to be able to connect the universe in the same way one would Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER, or a show like LOST. Give something more immersive to potential fans.

TGL - A lot of our readers have asked questions about making into production. Can you briefly walk us through the journey, like a timeline of how you made it from idea to completed project? Do you think short films are the place for people, who want to launch a career in the film industry, to start?

JMc - Making a film, even a short, is a long process – at least it is if you want it to be any good. You don’t want any weak links – in the end, one bad performance, a weird music cue, FX that don’t work, etc. – can sink the audience reaction to your work. In an industry as over-saturated as the film industry is now, and technology existing in which anyone can slap together something on a Handi-cam and call it a film, you need that edge.

Obviously it all starts with the idea and script. That needs to be developed fairly well – don’t just write a first draft and shoot that. Take some time with it. I’m not going to go into the financing side, since the next two questions talk about that – but you need to develop and figure out your budget next. How cheaply can you do it well? What is your ideal budget? Once you have that figured out, and you know how much money you have to play with, pre-production can begin.

The film itself is made in pre-production. If you slack here, your film will suffer greatly. The lower the budget, the more responsibility you’ll find yourself saddled with. I’ve worked on many things in which, as director/producer, I didn’t have the budget to pay a full crew – so you have to decide who you have room for, and what roles you can sacrifice. The hope is you’ll have enough money, but don’t feel bad if you are also up until 4am making craft-services for the next day, even as a director (which I’ve done on a number of occasions). Filmmaking isn’t glamorous, and a lot of my “success” came from the willingness to get my hands dirty.

You need to be organized from day one. Shot-lists, storyboards, and a good firm schedule can really help your film. I never show up on set without knowing exactly what I plan to shoot that day. The D.O.P. gets my shotlist days before we shoot so we’re on the same page and can discuss problems that may arise BEFORE we get to set. And most of all remember – even the highest skilled veterans like to work and create, so don’t be afraid to ask for professional help on deferral and reduced rates. I know that as a genre filmmaker, my product is only as good as my FX team and DP, so I never compromise there.

There is no set timeline to get a film done, but the key is efficiency. With “Ending the Eternal” we did a loose 1.5 months of pre-production (keeping in mind that with a full crew this pre-pro would be significantly shorter), 3 shoot days, and a couple of months of post (again, this isn’t work all the time – you need to let your cuts sit a bit, let friends watch and give feedback – you never know what can be improved if you don’t rush things). With a feature the schedules vary – a standard indie feature preps for approximately 10-20 days, and shoots for about the same. More money allows more time to play around and get everything perfect, so in an lot of ways the indie filmmaker has to be even more organized to make an impact.

As for short films, I’m of two minds. Dov S-S Simens would disagree with me, but I think they have a great deal of value. The “calling card” short is a great commodity to get your foot in the door - look at Neill Blomkamp, Jason Eisner or James Wan. However, you have to go into them knowing you probably won’t make your money back. Very few people buy shorts, and the licensing fees are very low. They are great “demos” for your abilities, especially on the festival circuit, but if you can take the same money and make an effective feature film out of it, then you may actually have a product that is worthy of distribution and decent revenue.

TGL - We also get a lot of questions about money. What kind of budget was there for Ending the Eternal? And how does it compare to the feature?

JMc - “Ending the Eternal” was very low budget (less than $20K), but everyone still got paid decently enough on set. However there was still a lot of donated work, so if everything cost what it should have, probably closer to $50K.

On a feature film things are different – sure, you could ask people to work for 15-20 days for little pay, but I really don’t like doing that. A paid crew is one that won’t screw you over in the 11th hour. “The Eternal” was written and designed to be a proper film, with a proper budget and actual known (name) actors. Because of the cast we have attached (which can’t go public yet), we need a lot more money – and because we’re poised to make a Canadian indie feature with the intent of a limited theatrical release and worldwide sales appeal, we aren’t just going and shooting it. We’re raising a fairly sizeable chunk of money for an indie film made in the current industry.

However, as it stands I have multiple versions of “The Eternal” worked out – we have the “ideal” version, and then know we are able to make it for approximately half the money. This of course means less cast pedigree and more corners cut, but you need to have a contingency plan. Money is extremely hard to come by, and even more-so now. It’s out there, but it takes a lot of work (and don’t kid yourself, working capital) to put together. We still don’t have all of our goal finance on “The Eternal”, despite having shopped it and taken countless meetings over the last year and a half. The financial climate across the board is one of nervousness and very little risk-taking, so you have to be ready and put yourself in a position to keep swimming, if plan A doesn’t pan out.

What I’ve learned to do is play the game and diversify as much as possible. “The Eternal” may be our flagship film, and our highest budget (night and day compared to the short – but it is a much bigger story) – but you meet so many different kinds of financers that it’s good to be ready to take the discussion into multiple directions. Because of this we have three other properties packaged and ready to shoot, at varying lower budgets. If someone doesn’t want to invest in “The Eternal” but still wants to invest in something a little less financially heavy, we’ve got “Foster’s Bane” (thriller @ $500K), “Skull World” (doc/comedy @ $100K), and a new currently untitled project (dark comedy/thriller @ $100K).

TGL - What are some of the challenges you've faced in getting your work off the page and onto the screen? How did you overcome these challenges?

JMc - I’ll let you know when those challenges are entirely overcome. At the moment the financing game is a tall mountain to climb. We’re confident we’ll get our goal, but you have to be prepared for a lot of disappointment. You can meet and negotiate and plan out your project for months and then everything you worked toward can fall apart in a single phone call.

With indie film, a lot of financing structures are also built around the idea of co-production. A $2 million film might have 10 different financers, or two (each putting in half the money), etc. If one of those financers pulls out, goes bankrupt, or anything else, your project could sink. You need to be extremely careful in how you approach everything. I’ve thought we’ve had full greenlight twice already with “The Eternal”, and twice it’s fallen apart. It can be incredibly disheartening, but you keep going.

Another worry is creative control. The fact is – if someone is paying for your movie, unless you are very lucky, or David Lynch, it’s not going to be the same film you saw in your head. This is both good and bad – film is a collaborative art and other opinions are good. Notes and changes can sometimes be for the better. But not always. I haven’t hit the point yet in which I’ve had someone literally tell me to change something or it’s a deal-breaker, but I know it’s coming.

I think the only thing you can do as a filmmaker worth your salt is move forward carefully, and be ready to get screwed over. And when it happens, don’t let it kill the dream. You need thick skin, or you’ll get chewed up and spit out. Remember, there are a million other people just like you, at varying degrees of talent, all competing for the same dollar. All after the almighty “greenlight”. Talent is one thing, but unless you take the time to teach yourself the business and really know what goes on at markets like AFM, and how deals are made, you are just a dreamer. Even as a writer. You need to know these things in 2010. Everyone that “makes it” on an indie level does.

There are great resources out there to learn these things. Search online for producing tips and blogs (like Todd Farmer’s great writing blog), get an IMDbPro membership and read the message-boards, add filmmakers on Facebook and actually try and talk to them, pick their brain. People love to talk, love to pass on knowledge (well, most of them), so never feel shy. Your passion and sincerity will come through, and you can gain tons of valuable info. I also highly recommend Lloyd Kaufman’s book “Produce Your Own Damn Movie” and Dov S-S Simens “2-Day Film School” DVD collection.

Also, more than anything else, learn the pitfalls in the industry. Avoid the sharks and so-called producer’s reps/sales agents that are really only after conning you out of money. There are some great sales agents out there (most are IFTA members), but there are also fly-by-night con-men that will take you for every penny you’re worth if you give them the chance. Check everyone out. Being stupid will result in nothing but debt and shattered dreams (or thicker skin, if you have to learn the hard way). The sharks prey on your ambition and most young filmmakers aren’t grounded enough to realize that “too good to be true” usually is.

TGL - What is your writing process?

JMc - I generally write with my long-time creative partner Kevin Hutchinson (, but regardless it’s generally the same when it comes to screenplays. After the initial idea, or spark of an idea, we sit and discuss it, sometimes we’ll meet a few times just talking it back and forth. We come up with the general story, working out any plot holes or problems that may arise. The next, and most important step, is characters. Generally, we make up detailed character backgrounds for everyone in the story, even the minor ones. We make sure we’ve come up with who they are, where they’ve come from, their personalities, how they’d respond to a given situation. The audience will never know the detail we put in, but it’s that detail that dictates the story. It becomes much easier to write if we know what John Doe will do if a big monster jumps in front of him. If we know their every insecurity, their psychology, etc. For example, if a character has intense anxiety disorder, then a certain degree of suspense actually organically comes from that trait.

Next up is the rough outline – a point by point breakdown of the major beats in the story. We then take that outline and write it up, change things that need changing, and start hashing dialogue. Generally we know the entire story before we even start a draft (though in some cases a free-form script can be something powerful – just very rarely).

Finally, the first draft starts, which I usually end up writing on my own (with constant input from Kevin). After that, we revise together to second draft. Any subsequent drafts come with the benefit of time and reflection – over time ideas change, some things get thrown out, and the story becomes more solid.

TGL - A common question we get is about rewrites during the shoot. What we have on paper sometimes doesn't translate 100% to the screen... Did you find or do you expect that you'll have many re-writes during filming?

JMc - Rewriting during production is usually for practical reasons. A location will make the blocking impossible and it has to revised, or an effect or gag doesn’t work and you have to improvise, etc. As a writer and/or director you have to think on your feet, especially with low-budget. You may write your story for one way, but after casting your actors may have a different cadence to their speech patterns (ie. Dialogue changes needed), certain performances may seem weaker (character time cut), or you might just simply run out of money (which shouldn’t happen if you produce well).

I think the best moments and re-writes are the ones that come while making the film. You may have a great idea or a way to add another layer to the story easily, halfway through the shooting schedule. Or anyone might have made a great suggestion...... a film continues to be written while it’s shot, and it’s important to realize that it’s a good thing.

Which side of things do you prefer? Writing or Directing?

JMc - For me they are somewhat indistinguishable. I somewhat prescribe to the Auteur Theory, and am trying to shape a career as a writer/director.

When writing I’m actually breaking down the film, shots and all, in my head. I know the way I want the scene to play out – so when it comes to directing what is written not much gets lost in translation.

Even if I end up directing a script that isn’t mine, the director is still very much a writer in that case. The words and the story are one thing, but how that story is told on screen is just as much a part of the writing process. A reaction shot, decisions on how lines should be played – many things, both subtle and less so, dictate how the story is interpreted. Both roles are different sides of the same coin.

TGL - What advice would you give to someone looking to film their first short?

JMc - If it’s your first short – just shoot the bloody thing. Do a simple idea that doesn’t take a ton of effort, and shoot it. Aim to make it the best you can. Get this into your head now – if it’s your first short, chances are it isn’t going to be amazing. Do it anyway. The first short is all about experience.

My first short was “Retribution of the Meek”, which I made in high school. Cheap cameras, cheap blood, etc. But I learned things making it that still apply today. “Ending the Eternal” was actually my fifth short film, but the first to get any sort of actual notoriety. I made one after that, “Open Invitation”, and I think the growth as a filmmaker is clear between the two.

Just keep shooting – but don’t go to make your first short and sink $20K into it – because it’s a waste of money. Make sure you know what you’re doing before you really start putting cash into your career. A bad looking $20K short is just that – worthless. But a bad looking first time short is worth the experience. Who knows, you might be a genius who can pull off something amazing right out of the gate, but it’s unlikely. Film is a learned craft, a culmination of years of experience and knowledge. So take the time, and don’t worry if it takes longer than you expect – it will.

TGL - We see a lot or media online and everybody has a YouTube Channel these days. Has the Internet become a new tool for Indy writers/directors? How have you used this medium to get projects out there?

JMc - The internet has made me. I’ve got pages on Facebook, Vimeo, Youtube, Twitter, Google Video, Daily Motion, Pelime, Myspace, Imdb, etc. Embrace it. Never before has it been so easy to get your work out to the world. The networking sites have also allowed me to get to know the webmasters/editors at most major horror news sites, so they run my press releases. Whore yourself, but do it respectfully. Attach your uploaded videos to theme-driven groups. You never know who is going to see your stuff online. Enter in online film festivals, post links on message boards – go to where the fans of your type of film are, and get your buzz building. It’s worth the work.

The internet can also help you build your network and crew – Craigslist,, social networking sites – you may find everyone you need to get your film off the ground via these. Use it to make your name, to advertise your upcoming events, to make your presence known. And when you’re about to go into production, use the internet and approach Variety, Hollywood Reporter, and Baseline Studiosystems (who provide all film info for the New York Times, Yahoo, Fancast, and much more) – announce your project in the trades or production charts – people will come out of the woodwork inquiring about your film. Some great contacts can be made this way.

Be careful with short films though – if you want to make a festival impact, you can’t release on the internet first – as most major festivals require your film to be an exclusive premiere (or at least not available for free on the internet). We did pretty well at festivals with “Ending the Eternal”, but we didn’t get into some because I decided to give it an internet release first. I don’t mind – plenty of fans have been made online.

TGL - We've spoken about the Eternal Saga, what other projects are you working on? What can we look forward to in 2010?

JMc - 2010 is planned to be the year of “The Eternal”, but we have a number of other projects in varying stages of development. I’ve been shooting a new documentary called “Skull World” ( for a little over a year now. That wraps in Fall 2010. In addition, we have two lower budget features, “Foster’s Bane” and a currently untitled one. Besides that, some music videos. Generally our main focus is on getting Samuel’s story out to the world.

TGL - Again, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

JMc - You’re quite welcome. Hopefully I didn’t write too much.