Today on the show we have screenwriter, consultant, and studio executive, Jeff Willis. Jeff has been in the film business for over 15 years as a writer and executive working on films like Avengers: End Game, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Captain Marvel, and Black Panther to name a few.
Around 30 minutes into the show we begin to discuss the business of screenwriting and more importantly what screenwriters can do to make money and get their stories out there. There are so many options out there for the entrepreneurial screenwriter. Jeff and I talk about the many options a screenwriter has to make money with his or her stories and unproduced screenplays.
Enjoy my conversation with Jeff Willis.
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Alex Ferrari 0:40
I like to welcome the show Jeff Willis, how are you doing my friend?
Jeff Willis 2:49
I'm doing well. How are you doing? Thanks for having me on.
Alex Ferrari 2:51
I am doing as well as I can be in this crazy upside down world we live in today.
Jeff Willis 2:55
I know I keep telling everyone you're pandemic adjusted terms is my go to phrasing is endemic adjusted terms.
Alex Ferrari 3:02
I mean, we live in it. Well. I mean, now currently when we recording this episode, I mean, we're literally in Blade Runner. Because of the fires. I mean, some of the images coming out of San Francisco literally look like Blade Runner. 2049 It's I know it's it's insane. And now every day I walk out of my house I live in LA. I walk out and I go not can't go outside today. Not too much smoke in the air got to go back in the house. It's it's an insane. It's like the whole world is it's crazy. It's crazy.
Jeff Willis 3:34
Yeah. Who knew who knew that Roger Deakins was going to dp the apocalypse?
Alex Ferrari 3:40
It does look, I mean, you right? That's actually I'm gonna steal that one. I like that one. Because I don't know. It's It's insane. And and our business has changed so radically. And so many things have changed not only for riders, but for the business in general. I mean, if I would have told you, hey, Jeff, you know, in January, you know, no blockbuster season this year, for the first time since 1977. There will not be a summer blockbuster season. And oh, we're gonna shut down the world for at least a couple months. And you will look you would have looked at me like that's a horrible pitch. And we're not making that movie.
Jeff Willis 4:17
Yeah, exactly. Too unrealistic.
Alex Ferrari 4:19
It's too on the nose. No one would believe something as crazy as that. So how did you login into the business in the first place, sir?
Jeff Willis 4:29
So I, you know, I started in, in film school. I didn't really get interested in film until I was in high school. And it was one of those things were a friend of mine, who was a you know, one of those like kids, like I wanted to be a director since I was nine. My parents got me a camcorder. I was Dan kind of kind of people. He always knew he wanted to make movies. And he was one of those projects in high school where you know, that, you know, they give you the option. They're like, Oh, you can do an essay, or you can do a project or you can do a test. And he was like, I want to make a movie. And I was like, Well, that sounds kind of fun. Like oh, not with that. And then it's The process of you know, being behind the scenes and making something just totally, like, totally blew my mind, I had so much fun doing it. And then once I knew he was gonna go to film school, I'm like, Oh, that's a thing, you can go to school for this, like, that sounds awesome. So I went to Long Beach State for film school. And then, you know, my senior year in film school, I interned in the in the business, you know, to get my foot in the door and get some college credits and everything. And that was, you know, almost, you know, 20 years ago, 1520 years ago. So, over the last, you know, over the last 15 years, I've been just, you know, working my way up and you know, climbing the climbing the ladder, and then writing on the writing on the side.
Alex Ferrari 5:39
And the business has changed a bit since you got into it originally, would you say? Little, little tiny bit, you
Jeff Willis 5:45
know, there are, you know, things like emails, which are way more important than they used to be. We only send interns to the copy room to copy you know, 400 scripts manually anymore. God, I
Alex Ferrari 5:57
remember those days. Geez, I was an office intern for a show for Fox when I was in college. And that was I had to make copies. It was it sucked. Yeah.
Jeff Willis 6:07
No, no one wanted no one wanted to intern on Fridays, because that was the day you had to photocopy every script for every executive to take home with them. You know?
Alex Ferrari 6:15
And then don't forget the color the the the different drafts and the different color pages that you got to stick in? And oh,
Jeff Willis 6:24
exactly. No, good, good, good times.
Alex Ferrari 6:27
Good times, good times. But that's also a thing that a lot of a lot of writers and people getting into the business don't understand that you do got to pay your dues in one way, shape, or form. You know, and I think from when we were coming up, it was a little bit more accepted. And I think there was a little bit more access even because the competition wasn't nearly as brutal as it is today. It was it was a simple, it was simpler times, as I'm sure when we were doing it growing up. It seemed like there was just oh my god, how are you going to break in, but looking back, you're like, Oh, my God, I was wide open, like, there was nothing. Like I got internships in this. And I got, I got into that, and there was so many more opportunity. But now it's a little bit more complicated, but I think it's a lot more, there was a lot more opening to the whole mentorship program and kind of like getting getting in and learning that way. And then doing that crap work pa work, intern work, things like that, to kind of get to the next level and learn.
Jeff Willis 7:22
Yeah, it's, you know, it's funny how often I tell people that too, because you know, and you talked, you know, on on your other episodes of your podcast about how important networking is, you know, that's the gong you keep banging, because like, like it is, it's, you know, I haven't had, I don't think a single job that I've ever gotten, since my first job has come anywhere other than networking, someone knew someone or put in a call for me, or told me they knew of something. And it is it's like it it as much as the industry has changed in terms of, you know, how it does business, or the things it focuses on, or the types of projects it does, like, the one thing that never changes is, you know, by and large, with few exceptions, you know, the the majority of people make their way in this industry by starting at the very bottom, you know, working real hard for a really long time, until eventually it pays off. And, you know, that it, you know, that has, has become more difficult in some ways. But you know, also in other ways, like, like, it hasn't really changed. But that's what everyone does is, is they have to spend a long time paying their dues to, you know, to get to the point they want to be
Alex Ferrari 8:24
now can you you know, because I'm sure you know, you work in Hollywood, you work with some big studios, I'm assuming that you get hit up all the time, especially when someone knows that you work at Marvel, or you work at this company or that company. They're just like, Hey, hey, can you read my script? Hey, I got this great aunt man. script for admin for can or they try to like, suck, like, what can you do for me, Jeff? Kind of energy, which is the biggest mistake anyone could ever make when trying to network with someone because you just want to get away. It's just like being that that wanting guy who wants to date at a club girls can feel it and vice versa. The same thing happens in it. And I always I always I used to call it or I still call it the desperation. jakar so you would actually it's a clone that you're drenched in with and you can smell it. You can sense this desperation. I always tell people that the only way to really truly network is one to try to be as authentic as possible. And to to be a value. What can I do for you? How can I help you and that's how you build a relationship. Not what can you do for me? Would you agree?
Jeff Willis 9:35
Yeah, no, absolutely. And it's funny because I give that exact advice to pretty much everyone that asked and it's funny I'm I'm pretty active on you know, Twitter, Reddit, a couple other you know, things and it is funny how often people yeah, people ask that question. How do I network? How do I make connections? And it's funny because yes, as soon as you start with well, over the course of several years, you have to if people go No, no, I'm out like I can do it in two weeks. But it's you know, that's the, what you said is exactly right. I mean, it is about providing, providing mutual value. And you can't be the person that walks in and says, you know, what can you do for me Nice to meet you, you know, like, read my script. And what's funny is how often people will literally just assume that that means, you know, like, like, bumping it one interaction. So it's like, Okay, I won't ask them to read my script, the first time, I'll say, nice to meet you at the pitch event, and then we'll go home, and then I'll email them and say, Well, your script, you know, and it's, and I keep telling people it, like, it's, that's not what it's about it is again, about, you know, providing a mutual benefit and showing that you're genuinely interested in someone else. Because we all have people that you know, want something from us, we all have people that are looking to leverage what we can do for them for their own benefit. And we're all in that position where we all need benefit from someone else. But you can't, you can't make a habit of being the person that is constantly treating, like a one way street and saying, what can you do for me? How can you help me, help me, help me help me without offering something in return? And it's funny, because the next question that a lot of young writers, you know, often ask is like, well, what can I possibly offer? You know, an executive, you know, or what can I offer someone, you know, in a position of power that I need something from? And it's, and it's funny, because I tell people? Well, I mean, think about, you have to, you have to anticipate, you know, what, what they need, what they're looking for that kind of thing, they are meeting with writers, because they need good quality writers that can, you know, pitch to them that can help them fill out, you know, a slate of, you know, of talent, they're looking at, you know, they need people who can't they, they can rely on that, they know that, you know, when their boss says, here's a concept I'm interested in, they can bring someone in, and, and vet really quickly whether or not they're a good fit, so that they can look good to their boss. So your value as a writer, you know, isn't in, you know, here's a script by it. For me, it's, I can, you know, I can tell stories, I can develop character, I can take what you're giving me and synthesize that and give you back something that you can, you know, show to your boss show to your department head show to a producer or a director and make you look good. And that's how you get into these relationships where, and, you know, the more I'm the the higher the levels I get to in this industry, the more I see, it's true, where, you know, there are very few people in this industry that have the power to, you know, to greenlight or to or even to spend money, you know, nowadays, they're just, they're just so few of those positions around. And those people tend to have people that they like, and go to over and over again, because those people have demonstrated, you know, an ability to give them what they're looking for. So they say, Great, I need a rewrite on this, you know, this spec is pretty good. But the dialogue sucks, you know, I know a guy who's my dialogue guy, and I can bring him in, and he'll Polish this up for me. And you don't get to be in a position like that without offering some value to someone else. The guy that keeps saying Will you read my spec? Will you do something for me never becomes the guy that gets a call from a studio head saying, look, I needed I needed a last minute dialogue polish on this, I'll give you 100 grand for a week's worth of work, you know?
Alex Ferrari 13:07
Yeah, it's very true. That's a lot of times people ask, like, hey, why is that director keep getting work, he stinks. Like, his movies are bad, but he keeps getting work or that writer keeps getting work. Why? Because exactly what you said they have proven that they can provide a service and get and get it finished, which and actually get them a final product, good, bad or indifferent. They got something at the end of it, and that you can show that you've completed as a director of 345 films like okay, at least we know, he or she is going to get it over the finish line. Same thing goes for writers like we're gonna get a draft out of this guy, or we're gonna get a Polish out of this person. And that is more valuable a lot of times then, the most talented writer that no one's ever heard of, is that a mean cuz they're unproven, and Hollywood is fairly skittish new stuff like that, taking risks,
Jeff Willis 14:03
ya know, the number of times that I I've told people that to where it's like, and again, I think this is the same pretty much everyone says, but you know, it's better to be, you know, someone who is pretty good at their job and easy to get along with than someone who's a genius. And, and not, because it is true, like, what most executives are looking for, in a situation, especially when you're developing something like development is a process of incrementally getting closer and closer to something that you can that you can feel comfortable shooting, right? Like, it is rare that you either a bias script and you're like, I'm gonna shoot this as it is no notes, or where you say, you know, I'm gonna buy this script, and it's only going to take one rewrite, and we're gonna get all the way there. You know, it's, it's most often a, an evolutionary process. So rather than being the writer who is difficult to get along with, and occasionally brilliant and hoping that you really just hit that Grand Slam, you know, every time you're up to bat it's so much better. To be the writer, that's like, Look, I may not be, you know, I may not write the most genius stuff in the world. But if you give me a set of notes, I can get you most of the weight of what you're trying to do, you know, I can get you 80% of the way there every time I do a draft. And again, that's what becomes valuable because then the development executive can go back to his people, his producers, his studio heads and say, Look, we paid this money for this work, and look how much better it is further along, it's almost, you know, like, where do we go from here, it gives them that constant evolution that they're looking for in getting the project more and more ready for production. And, you know, I've always, I've always told people, you know, if you asked me whether I'd rather be, you know, a spec writer making, you know, million dollar spec sales, or you know, like this German writer who's getting you know, 5060, grand, 100 grand a draft, but regularly doing rewrites and stuff, I would be that second writer every time. Because, you know, that's, that is where you not only do the work, and you can you keep working in this business as a writer, but it's also where you make the most connections, and the most value in your career is like the number of people who are like, that guy can get me 80% of what I need, if I hire him and to do it to do a pass, he'll, he'll get me what I need in that script.
Alex Ferrari 16:08
80% is huge. Like that is, like if you can get a script to 80% of where you want it to be. That is because most people can't get it to 10%
Jeff Willis 16:19
Yeah, no, it's funny, I, my, my very first executive job, I, you know, I'm looking at, and it's funny, because this actually parlayed into a writing assignment for me, but, you know, it's one of those things, and one of the one of the areas that, you know, I think it's so important for writers is understanding writing for budget and understanding, you know, what things cost, because there are so few people that can do that. But it is like, the number one consideration when people are rewriting stuff is, is trying to hit budget numbers in production, you know, logistics that they that they have to work within. But so that, you know, this guy writes, it writes a script, and I can't remember the details, but it was, you know, the third act is this huge, you know, house mansion explodes, you know, like, like, explosions, helicopters, you know, everything. And at the time, we were an independent company. So we were like, look like, like, everything script is great. The third act gets, you know, quote, unquote, a little out of control. And we need to, we need to, we need, we need to write it cheaper, we need a cheaper version of a third act that, you know, that doesn't miss any of the, you know, the character, the important character moments of the arcs, but like, but it's just literally cheaper to shoot. So the guy caught, the guy goes back, and comes back and turns into his rewrite. And now, the, the the third act is like, I forget, it's like, takes place at like a ski chalet. There's snow, there's more explosions, there's, you know, gunfire, and everyone's looking at the script going, this is more expensive than the last verse, you know. And, and, and the writer just didn't understand what elements made a cheaper, cheaper shoot. And it's one of those things where, like, that's what I think is so important with, you know, with writers who are trying to have a career This is you need to understand, and it's one of the reasons why I'm so glad you do this podcast, and there other business resources out there, because it's not just about writing good characters, or compelling narrative. It's also about understanding like the business that drives the art. So like, if you don't understand how to make those business considerations like work, you're not gonna be hired very often, because that's what they need is they need someone to say, I need this script rewritten to be shot $5 million cheaper, but don't lose any of the good stuff, you just need to figure out a better way to do it.
Alex Ferrari 18:27
Right, exactly. So instead of a cast of 1000s, that is gonna cost you you know, a lot of money to shoot that big giant action sequence. Maybe you could do it in a different way that they can drop that budget just a bit. So everyone's happier.
Jeff Willis 18:43
Yeah, exactly, exactly. is it's kind of one of those things like, so it's $20 million to shoot it this way. Is there any way to, to to rewrite it so that we could shoot it for, say, the $8 million? We actually have? Because if we can't, then we're going to something else? Because I don't have an extra 12 million to give you.
Alex Ferrari 19:00
Exactly. And I think for writers specifically, you know, when you write I've heard this so many times from writers like should I should I, you know, box myself into budget, or should I just let my imagination flow? And I always tell people like, well, what's the endgame here, because if it's a spec script to show what you can do, then as a writer, then let your let your mind flow. Understand that the chances of that getting produced is going to be Milton none. But you also don't want to box yourself in completely. It all depends on your end game. If you're trying to produce a movie for you know, $100,000 and make an independent film. You can't have that giant action sequence in it. That's just not the way it works. So you kind of have to work things out a little bit. Would you agree?
Jeff Willis 19:49
Yeah. Well, I mean, and it also I think, has to do a lot with you know, with the notes or the reason you're coming in, you know, to meet and it's one of the questions that I don't hear asked often enough by writers, but like You know, you come in, and there's a set of notes, and they tell you what they want to accomplish in the script. But very few writers, you know, will take the time to ask, like, what is your goal with this with these notes? Are they just trying to be? Are you just trying to tweak the story? Are you legitimately trying to make it cheaper to shoot? Or do you care about budget? Like, are you willing to blow it up, like, in the conversation that that is had about a rewrite, so often, it's only looked at in terms of story and character. And, you know, it's really important, I think, to have that conversation, because a lot of times, sometimes even executives don't know. And more importantly, for the writer, it also tells you which notes are really important and which ones aren't. Because like you can kind of go through if you're having a legitimate conversation about the business considerations of you know, the notes, and there isn't 1% of the notes, then you know, that that note is like a personal preference, or it's something you know, it's something more more subjective. Versus, you know, I can't have this shot on a cruise ship, because that expensive that that location is too expensive, or whatever. So the more you can have an open conversation with whoever whoever's hiring you about the kinds of notes they're doing, what the motivation is for, why the why they want it done. It not, it doesn't just, you know, help you as a writer, but it also helps you turn in a draft that they that is more likely to be what they want, it's able to really hit the areas that they that you know, the things that they want. And again, it makes a development executive look like a superhero, if, you know, if they give you a script and you rewrite it, and for 50 grand you cut $10 million out of the budget like that is that is like hero level stuff for a development executive to be able to say so it's always worth considering those kinds of things when you're, you know, when you're considering writing assignments, because that's what so much of this business is the underlying business drives so much of this. Now, can
Alex Ferrari 21:49
you can you kind of this, I want to hear what your thoughts up. I think it's a myth that a lot of screenwriters and filmmakers kind of think about when they're writing their, their Opus, their their big screenplay that they're trying to create. And which is there's nothing wrong with having ambition when you're writing a screenplay. But there has to be truth raw truth involved with this. And one of them is I've seen this happen so many times, that they're gonna write the 100 and $50 million epic, based on an original idea, and they've never sold anything. And the director that they might have attached to it has never directed anything close to this budget range. And they will spend five to eight years peddling it around town with a sizzle reel, with 1000s of dollars worth of concept art, and it's going to be the next big Marvel thing is going to be something just like Marvel, and they're pitching it to the studios, and they just wonder, why am I not getting any traction? Can you? Can you talk a little bit about that? Well, I
Jeff Willis 22:52
mean, it's I, I was just talking with a friend about this the other day, but, you know, when you're when you are creating projects, you know, the the two angles that I typically that I typically advise people to go on is either if you want to make something yourself, make it as low budget as you possibly can. Because the idea is, you know, there are a there are an ever decreasing number of people that can finance a movie dependent as the budget escalates, right? So if it's a million dollars, maybe there's 5000, individuals, companies, whatever, they can make a million dollar budget, you know, if it's a $5 million budget, maybe there's 2000 if it's a $10 million budget, maybe there's 1000 if there's a 20 million, like you get into like so the more expensive you write something the fewer and fewer places that can actually make it and until you until you literally hit a point of no return which is you are only at a level where a studio can make it but if you look at what the studios are making, they're not doing original stuff much anymore. I mean, you know Disney by and large, Marvel make stuff based on their own IP Star Wars make stuff based on their own IP, Disney now makes most live actions are remakes of their animated like movies, like the number of original projects being developed at Disney are is much smaller than it used to be.
Alex Ferrari 24:04
And also and also the budget of those like Ivan Ivan the great whatever, that the monkey movie with a Heisenberg that just got released on Disney plus, those are they make so they make like move on. And they're gonna have all their old animated IP, or they'll make something that's probably 20 million and below. Yeah, more kind of like touchy feely really family, sometimes sports like the miracle miracle or things like that. And they still do one or two of those a year. Exactly. It's a bit like so
Jeff Willis 24:34
what I kind of tell tell people is like, Look, you need to aim for the lower end of things if you want to have any hope of getting it made. Because all of the development slots at the much higher level much higher budget are basically already reserved by people who already know what they want to make. So, you know, the business consideration I tell people is look you're either writing something low budget, hoping to get it made or you're writing something super high budget because it's a sample to get hired on. You know an assignment that are It exists. But again, you know, Marvel Disney, you know, Warner Brothers DC, like, they all have their big budget tentpoles they don't need a 100 they don't need to make to take $150 million flyer on some original superhero they created. Because, you know, in the case of Marvel, there's what 6800 superheroes they have to choose from already?
Alex Ferrari 25:20
Is it safe?
Jeff Willis 25:21
It's hard to explain sometimes, because I know that that's it's one of the it's one of the strongest illusions in this industry. Like, like the illusion? Well, first of all, the strongest illusion is the one that screenwriters you know, just like, are off somewhere, and they just, you know, write down their brilliance and, you know, type fade out, then sell it for a million dollars and then disappear until they're ready to sell another one. Like, that's the number one but like, but the second one is that, yeah, that, that you can somehow write a great script. And all of a sudden, you know, the sequel part, the doors will open. And you know, the studios will welcome you in and pay you, you know, ungodly amounts of money to make your original project. And that just doesn't really exist anymore. Because, you know, at the studio level, the studio already knows what they want to make and their projects that are already in development, and they need someone to execute what, what vision they're already trying to create. They're not looking for, you know, like, gee, we're short on, you know, franchise, tentpole ideas, like, I sure hope someone comes along and gives us one.
Alex Ferrari 26:23
Yeah, that's not so that's especially Disney. That's not something that Disney is having a problem with at this point in the game.
Jeff Willis 26:30
I don't think any creative execs, you know, anywhere in any of the studios are sitting there going, gee, if only we had some ideas about what we wanted to make movies.
Alex Ferrari 26:39
Yeah, exactly. But the whole, the whole business has become the studio business from when you came into the business. And I came into the business, when there was that $20 billion. I mean, Disney used to make 20 30 million movies a year at 20 million, 30 million, and occasionally a few temples, which now the whole business is completely driven by temple and spectacle. And that's just the way the business is. And if they make a movie for less than $100 million, that's insanity. Like, I've, there's rare for that to happen, because I've been saying this for years. And I actually wrote into my book, that Disney's Disney is not a movie studio anymore, that they they make about 15% of their revenue from exhibition of their films. They're in all the other businesses from theme parks and T shirts and hats and exploiting IP. That's the business that they're in there, you know, because it's the definition. To me, a definition of a studio is a company that makes movies and makes money off of selling access to that movie, that was the traditional definition. But that's not what these studios are, especially the top, you know, three or four like Disney, universal Warner Brothers. They Disney does it the best, obviously, they, everyone, everyone's chasing Disney.
Jeff Willis 27:55
Well, and it's and it's funny to see how how many companies are chasing Disney as well, where it's not just the studios, it's a lot of independent companies are aiming that way to where it becomes less of a focus, like so when I when I first started working beacon pictures was the company, I worked for it first. And it was I had the distinction of working in a lot of companies like after their heyday, but before they have a resurgence. So I was I was at beacon pictures post, bring it on Air Force One and pre castle, you know, so it was like, but, you know, at the time, you know, beacon was kind of the quintessential independent company, right, which is it had an overall deal of studio that paid them overhead to develop stuff. And you know, and make it. And that's where so many of the, you know, so many of these movies came from, which is, you know, Disney would have first looked deals with all these companies all around town, and they would bring them the stuff that they were interested in, hey, here's a really interesting $20 million drama. Here's a you know, and once all the works been done, they didn't Disney could say, it seems like you have a good business plan here. Yeah, we'll make that one or Yeah, we'll distribute that, or Yeah, we'll give you the money to do that. And, you know, after after the home video bubble burst, and studios stopped kind of doing overhead deals that it was it was it was, in effect, independent development kind of went away. And all these companies are now working on their own. But it's funny, because now you see these independent companies trying to replicate the studio model, because they know that's where the money is. So rather than seeing companies, independent production companies, you know, try to develop 40 projects, hoping to make you know, five in a year, you see them really trying, you know, trying to acquire established IP that you see them trying to or develop, you know, in house IP, but then just milk it like crazy. I mean, the number of companies I've worked with or consulted for in the last few years, where the focus wasn't on development. It was getting that one project out there so that they then they then could concurrently develop a video game development marketing campaign work with a merchandiser to get product out there. It really has for better Or worse, become this, you know, this, you know, horizontal, you know, effect where it's not about constantly putting out new content, it's about putting out content that was successful enough, you can exploit in a variety of lateral ways and make multiple revenue streams, you know, in order to, in theory get more money to make more movies, but it gets really frustrating because then you get, you know, again, instead of companies looking to make five movies a year, they may only make one because they're so focused on the other ancillary markets. And that's an you know, really hard I think it's contributed to the the decline in the stock market. I think it's declined, you know, the decline in, you know, writer jobs in general, it's been, it's been really hard because there's so many other business interests now, rather than just we need to develop new material constantly, so we can make more movies constantly.
Alex Ferrari 30:48
Now, would you recommend a writer, instead of writing a script, let's say they have a great idea for, you know, world building in this very epic story, whether it be in fantasy sci fi action, whatever it might be, would you recommend they actually just write novels based on that story, self distribute or self publish those novels at first or get it published traditionally, and they can actually start making money with their, with their writing, in addition to now having, hopefully an established IP, that might make it a little bit more appetizing for that screenplay that they already wrote, based on that on that work. So they're still making money off of their, their stories. And yet, they also have the screenplay ready in hand. So now they can walk it. It's much more I feel it's much more powerful for a writer to walk into an executive meeting go, here's my best selling book that is sold X amount of copies because I've self published it. Here's the book series. It has a big fan base. Here's what I've built. Here's the screenplay for the first two. What is that a better pitch, then? Here's a screenplay. Yeah, I
Jeff Willis 31:55
mean, so it's so it's so interesting. You mentioned that because I've actually been, I've actually been kind of pivoting to self publishing a lot in the last couple of years. Mostly because I'm working on my own stuff in that vein, but like, it's interesting that you bring that up, because I think there's really two, there's two ways to look at that. And the first is, you know, the, the way that you're describing it is absolutely a viable path, right, which is, if you develop something that is successful in another medium, that is obviously a feather in your cap when you when you go back to the to the screenwriting element. And the other thing that I'd say about that is that you know, what's really important is, we all talk about how frustrating this this business is where like you are pitching things, you don't get the job, you write stuff, it doesn't get made, like there is so much failure that comes you know, often through no fault of your own, just just the nature of the beast. And there's so much frustration that comes with not not getting things made waiting for approval waiting to stop for someone to say yes. And I really think that things like self publishing are great, because not only is it a potential Avenue where you can sell and make money on your own. But it's also it's also that creative release, it's that you don't need permission, you can literally just, you know, write the end, you know, fade out, click publish, and it's available, people can buy it and the market and the audience can speak for itself. So I often kind of recommend writers that have a lot of different ideas. And a lot of different mediums consider that because it is it's kind of one of those look, if you like writing a lot of different things, maybe focus on the low budget stuff, for screenwriting, and then write your huge space epics as books, you know, that, that you don't need to spend money to shoot in film, because it's a book, it's words on a page. So I think that it's definitely a good idea to consider other other avenues to, you know, to get interest in a project and then kind of come back to it. The second part of that, though, that I would warn people to get against is, there's a real mentality, you know, kind of like with the networking shortcut that we talked about earlier, people want to shortcut this process. And the way that often comes in is they, what a lot of writers translate, what we just talked about into is, oh, if I have it as a book first, then that means it's popular, and I can, I'll have an easier time selling and,
Alex Ferrari 34:03
and, you know,
Jeff Willis 34:04
the truth is, one not only is it like, you have to have a you know, a bonafide like bestseller, you can't sell 10,000 copies, and have it really moved the needle for anyone because, you know, it's one of those, let's think about this 10,000 copies, even if all 10,000 people bought a movie ticket at 10 bucks,
Alex Ferrari 34:21
and you want to make $100 million movie and you're making $100 million now but you're
Jeff Willis 34:25
only have you know, 100,000 in sales, that's not gonna that's you need to have legitimate like, like earth shattering numbers to impress people. But the other the other flavor of that, that I see a lot is, oh, if I if I write it as a book first, then I'm licensing it rather than selling it to the studio so I can reserve all these rights and everything. And I always like, again, I think, you know, my pet peeve is you know, business stuff you because it's one of those things where on the business side of things when you're doing a negotiation, there's so much trade off for what you're doing like no one unless you're JK Rowling unless You're good, okay, Stephenie Meyer, um, you don't get to dictate the terms of the agreement. So the more greedy you are with holding things back, the less likely someone is going to a wanted or be give you what you're asking for. So I see so many writers be like, well, if I write it as a book, then it's existing IP. So that'll get my foot in the door, because I can say it's existing IP, and then I can make a better deal for myself. And sorry, like, we've only sold 14 copies to friends and family, like, you're not gonna get a better deal at the studio than buying it outright. If that, you know,
Alex Ferrari 35:30
no, I mean, when I when I laid out that that scenario, it's a long game, that's gonna take a while to build up a fan base, you've got to I mean, you've got to build basically a business around your, your writing, and it can work, I've seen it work, I've seen filmmakers, I've seen screenwriters, create podcasts out of their screenplays, and turn that into a, you know, existing IP, where now you can monetize the podcast, but also start building an audience. There's so many ways for an ambitious entrepreneurial screenwriter to get their work out there. But there's what is just the one big thing that you have to worry about is work, you got to do lots of it. And it's going to take the other thing, time and patience. Like, this is not a short game, we're talking about years, not months, years for for you to build this up to the point where if you've written four or five books over the course of three years, you've built up an audience around your work. Let's say there's a series, let's say there's a podcast, let's say there's other ancillary products that you've built around this story, which again, everything I'm saying is completely doable in today's world, and very affordable to do to the point where an executive is expanding, scanning around Facebook, and you pop up on their feed. They're like, what the hell is this? And all of a sudden, they go to the website, they're like, what is this they got a whole world here, they've got product lines. Now we're talking to different completely different conversation without an executive or a potential investor, somebody is now calling you because they're interested in what you're doing as opposed to look at me guys, look at me, look at me, I need I need you, I need you to just like now I'm just gonna do my own thing. And I'll wait for people to come to me and for my personal experience, that's exactly what has happened to me. When I started indie film hustle five years ago, where I was drenched in desperation. jakar for a lot of my time here in LA when I first got here, because I didn't know any better. And when I opened up indie film, hustle, and bulletproof screenwriting, all that stuff, all of a sudden, I started getting contacted by people about my projects about things because I've built out this thing online, and I can provide value. And that's the key value, what can you provide besides a story? Because everyone's got a story? Right? Well, I
Jeff Willis 37:44
mean, it's you and the word entrepreneur, entrepreneurial is such a great, you know, a great phrase for this, because, you know, writers are all independent contractors, we are we are our own business owners, we are our own brands. Yes. And you do like you have to, you have to create excitement for your for your work. And it's funny because some writers are only want to write right in some screeners only want to write screenplays, and that's fine. But then, but then your version of that hustle is writing script after script after script and hoping someone notices. And for people who want to do that, like that is totally fine. Like that's, that's their bag, like, that's great. But you know, I am more person, I am personally more interested in other avenues of things. So the the, you know, writing things in different genres, writing things in different mediums, books, you know, whatever, trying things on my own, you know, web series, short films, you know, like any of that kind of stuff increases the chances, or at least I like to think it does of someone seeing you in a non standard way. Because if you only write scripts, the only way you're going to get discovered is if someone reads your script out of a stack of other scripts and says, Oh my God, that's really great. Let's meet this guy. But again, you never know when you know, some executives gonna be you know, messing around on Facebook, or Twitter. And someone's gonna say, Oh, my God, have you seen this thing? This web series is hilarious, or like, this graphic novel is my favorite thing. I read this this year. Have you ever heard of it? Like, that's the kind of stuff that I think that if you are, if your priority is being a creative person, you know, like a creative professional, there shouldn't be any limitations on the types of projects you're willing to do or tackle as long as they're interesting to you. Because every everything you put out is another chance for someone to discover you in a different way. And there's another audience to be drawn. And you can have arguments and debates over, you know, what's the best way to do that? What's the streamlined way to do it? What makes sense? What doesn't, but the truth is, like, it's such a moving target that no one ever can tell you it like no one, no one has yet figured out a way to say if you do A, B, C, and D, you'll be you'll be successful. Because if they could, we would have all done away. Oh. So you know, the only thing that's left to do is to try A B C, D, E, F, G H I J, you know, and hope that you know, someone somewhere sees K and is like, awesome. That's why I want to talk to that guy,
Alex Ferrari 40:01
you know, and I don't mean to interrupt you. But I think that a mind shift needs to happen with screenwriters in today's world, because, and this is just my opinion, I'd love to hear what you think about it is that if you're constantly waiting for someone else to give you permission, someone else to make your dreams come true, you are giving way too much power to the industry, you're giving way too much power to somebody you've never met, to make you happy to put food on your table, all of that stuff. I'm much more in the camp of building something myself being able to express myself as an artist, monetize that art in a million different ways now online, that you can do that and start just doing even if you're not making a lot of money at first, just do the work, just keep working, keep pumping out content, keep, if it's a podcast, if it's you know, if it's a story podcast, if it's a web web series, like you said, if it's books, if it's graphic, novels, whatever it is, just keep pumping stuff out. Because eventually, if you keep at it, you will build something of substance, you will build something that will be able to generate enough revenue. So you don't have to Uber, that you don't have to do that job that you don't want. And then if something happens, great, and maybe you even want to reach out to a few people, and I get this is what I'm doing things like that. But you're not like, if I don't get that call, my life is over. And I feel that's the problem with filmmakers with screenwriters and everybody in this business, you're always waiting for that permission from somebody, where in today's world, like when you and I came into the business, that wasn't an option. Like there wasn't an option to self publish, to do a podcast to do web series to actually create revenue streams from your art. This is very, very difficult. But in today's world, absolutely. You can I love to hear what you think.
Jeff Willis 41:48
Yeah, no, I mean, it's one of the things that, you know, the, the shift that I think ultimately has happened, you know, on a larger scale is, you know, it is it has gone from an industry or at least the idea of breaking in creatively whether you're talking about publishing, right, you know, screenwriting, filmmaking, whatever, has gone from a problem of access to a problem of standing out, right. And it's asked me to choose which one I would like, I would so much rather have the problem be figuring out how to get an audience for the content I'm able to make, rather than the problem be, I need someone to give me permission to make what I want to make. So it's, it's why I tell everyone that, you know, the wants to think about making an independent movie or whatever, like, like I am, so into that idea of doing it yourself, because you can like, like, it's like you said, you and I didn't have that option. You know, growing up, I mean, even when I went to film school, it was the beginning of like, the digital age. So we're just starting to be able to affordably make stuff and not have to, you know, spend money on film stock and developing in a lab and stuff. So, you know, that the last few years of being able to or the last, it's not a few years anymore, I'm old, it's the last couple of decades. The last couple of decades have seen you know, it just consistently get cheaper and easier to shoot, you can learn to do animation at home now, you know, with After Effects, which cost you 20 bucks a month or whatever, you know, you can learn to shoot on a GoPro camera that's 400 bucks, you know, you can learn to like, there are so many ways that you can do stuff yourself. And again, like I would so much rather have the problem be too much content and being and being seen above, above the the mess of like, you know, crappy projects that will never get made? Because people everyone thinks they can make a movie and it turns out, no, they can't. You know, it's, I would so much rather have the problem be getting visibility for your good quality stuff. One because I think that tends to happen naturally anyway. But to it's an easier problem to have to have something that exists and be like, I just need to figure out how to get people to see it than it is to be like I have this thing I really, really want to do, but oh my god, I need someone to give me the money to do it. I need to raise money to do it. You know, it's
Alex Ferrari 44:01
no one's ever gonna ask you to as an executive, as someone who's worked in the business, if you see somebody do everything we were just talking about that has spent a couple years building out their own IP building out novels building out like a little world like a little mini Disney, maybe a couple t shirts here, maybe a graphic novel there and they've been able to do all of this. Isn't that much more impressive to you? Like, wouldn't you just want to have a conversation with that person to just figure out like, how are you doing it? Because I've had those meetings I've had a studio executives call me there's like, dude, how are you doing it? Like I just want to know how you are running your business. And then we'll talk about your projects. But it's I feel it's much more impressive. It shows a lot about the person and it shows a lot about their work ethic and their it says volumes about who they are as an artist and as a business person. Yeah, I
Jeff Willis 44:52
mean, and I think that's that's true more than anything because it is a visibility and like and view into the The kinds of things that they're interested in and the kinds of things they're working on. Like, the really hard thing is, as a screenwriter, it might be comparable, if you had meetings with people, and they were to ask you questions like, so how many scripts Have you written? You know, like, how many have you sold? You know, like, What? How many? How many paid gigs Have you gotten, but they don't ask those questions. So it's hard to contextualize for a, for an executive that you're meeting with, if you're just a screenwriter, it's hard to contextualize whether you are incredibly experienced, or this thing you're meeting on is, you know, like, like, your lucky swing right out of the gate, or whether it's, you know, something you kind of got a handle on, but you just kind of lucked into, like, it's really hard to take a meeting as solely a screenwriter. And again, unless you have a ton of credits to your name that people can look up, say, you know, look, you're in good hands here, like I my work speaks for itself, you know, because you're otherwise relying on, you know, either word of mouth, or your agents to kind of put your name out there and say, Well, no, no, he did, he did a really great uncredited rewrite on this thing, or he did an amazing draft of this movie, that's, you know, that the option expired, it's dead, you know, like, it's really hard to contextualize all of the hard work and the good work you put in as a screenwriter. But if you are the kind of person that is, again, entrepreneurial, and developing other things, it is so much easier to again, point to things and say, you know, point to the Hey, I made that thing and say, hey, look, like I have this website, I have this, you know, book series, I have this, you know, this, this wiki page, that is all about the crazy, you know, interconnected world that I've written in my sci fi graphic novel series. So I think that, that makes it more interesting. Because again, if you're just looking at scripts, the script has to speak for itself. And you have to hope that the guy or gal reading it, loves that one script enough to want to meet you, right? Or has heard enough good things about you over the years to be like, I gotta meet that person. Because other people have worked with him and say, He's great. But yeah, like I said, you know, if you're, if you're doing a bunch of your own things in an entrepreneurial way, you increase the chances that someone will come across it in a in an unconventional way, like just living their life link, you know, someone sends you a link, or someone says, Hey, have you checked this out? It's more likely to get checked out. because not a lot of people will even when you say you got to read the script. It's amazing. It's hard for people to find time to read 100 pages, but to watch a two minute, you know, YouTube clip, like sure, like y'all, I'll put that on. And, and then once they once you catch their attention, then when they find you online and find your presence and find the things that you've made again, see you in that like, Oh my god, he made this and he did this. And he tried that. And that's interesting. Oh, how'd that turn out? So then even if it's not, you know, I sold 180,000 copies of my of my sci fi novel, it's maybe not but like, but you have something really interesting going on here that people seem to respond to. And that's where the conversation most often.
Alex Ferrari 47:50
Right? And I loved you said something to words that really resonated with me, I think we should dig into a little bit of it a little bit. It's being just a screenwriter, the concept of being just a screenwriter, I want to dig into a little bit because I agree with you, I think I'm gonna ask you the question. Do you think being just a screenwriter is enough? If you're starting out? You know, it's because if you have credits, if you're old school, if you started in the 80s, or the 90s, or even the early 2000s, you have you have something under your belt, that's a different conversation, but just starting out now, unless you've got the next you are the next Pulp Fiction, you know, you're the next Tarantino or Sorkin or Shane Black. Unless you're that which nine out of 9.999% out of 10 is not going to be that person. Do you think that a screenwriter should be more than just a screenwriter?
Jeff Willis 48:45
I think it depends on on the interest. I I don't think that there's anything wrong with being just a screenwriter, I think there are people out there for whom writing screenplays is the only thing they want to do and feel called to do and that's there's there should be no no shame or stigma attached to that agree. But I think it is a harder path now than it used to be writing writing jobs are fewer and far between, you know, it is harder and harder to get your name out there as a as a screenwriter, it's harder and harder to get your name on stuff that actually gets produced in get you get credits for. So I think that it is harder to be just a screenwriter and not have other irons in the fire. That's not to say that it can't be done. And that's not to say that it shouldn't be done if that's if that's really what you feel like your career is is aimed towards. And you know, most importantly, I think that it's important not to not to force yourself into a category that you don't like, I cannot count the number of writers that assume they need to be writers and directors because that's how they get stuff made but have no interest in directing and void shows when they try to make a short film. Right. So it's kind of one of those things where I I always kind of tell people like and and it's it's funny because I just had this conversation with a friend of mine where he was asking, you know, Doesn't make sense to always kind of be writing the same type of project or to like to do a whole bunch of different things. And I think there was a time where being just a screenwriter who only wrote screenplays in one particular genre might have been the way to go. Because you know, you're the horror guy, you're the guy, you're a dialogue punch up guy. But I think more and more, I think that it is more advantageous to be someone who has a wide variety of interests, and even more has a wide variety of mediums they're interested in, because, again, I think that it's, I think that in this changing landscape, where I mean, in the last decade, you know, TV has completely overtaken film in terms of like, the number of productions that are out there, and the type of content that's being out there. And there's nothing to say that, you know, 10 years from now, it won't be something else video games, it might be animation, it but like who knows, like, with COVID animation might really take off,
Alex Ferrari 50:50
it's holodeck. It's holodeck filmmaking. It's holodeck filmmaking. So that's, it's gonna be holograms. And we're gonna be inside the story. That's the next day.
Jeff Willis 50:58
There you go. Yeah. So, you know, and the fact that there's so many, so many changing variables, I think that the, again, the more irons you have in the fire, I think the more likely you are to find success, it may be unconventional success that you don't expect, like, it may be one of those things where and and it's funny, because talking about all the self publishing, writing that I do, and like, I cannot tell you the number of writers I know that self published books and make in excess of a quarter million dollars a year, right? And you and you have never heard of that exact bookshelves. They're not like they're not, you know, at Barnes and Noble. And it's one of those things where I think that it, it is going to, it's going to require someone to be able to accept the fact that it that the the reality doesn't match the dream. And we talked about that briefly, where it's like, the dream is you know, I you know, I write a screenplay whenever I feel like it, I sell it I show up for the premiere, get my picture taken, do a bunch of interviews, then go back home and write another screenplay. Like, yeah, that's, that is already unrealistic. And and off the mark from what reality is, but it was,
Alex Ferrari 52:03
it was real, it was unrealistic when it was happening, which is like the 80s. In the 90s, when the spec boom app,
Jeff Willis 52:09
it makes you want to shake those people and say, which writer told you that this is the way it was? Because I don't know anyone who this this experience is indicative of you know, but but I think it's gonna take so people have already kind of accepted I think it moved into, like, if you're talking with people who have seriously taken their writing career seriously, as a screenwriter, and they have realistic expectations, then they now know, you know, it's it's a slog, there's a lot of disappointment, there's a lot of false starts, like they have a more realistic sense of what that job is. But I think it could potentially shift even more in the future where now it becomes Look, if you if you are a creative person, if you are a writer who writes stories, then you may be writing things in a variety of different mediums and you never know what may take off, it may be a web series for which you have a Patreon that pays your bills. It may be you know, uh, you know, in an independent book sale, where you get 70% royalties at Amazon that pays your bills, it might be screenwriting, where you get a huge six figure paycheck every couple of months, or, you know, if I had to put my money on it, probably a combination of everything, where, you know, in order for me to quit my day job, and by the way, I love day jobs, I don't understand why more writers feel like they can't have them. I'm like, I love the fact that my writing is extra money and not Oh God, can I pay the mortgage, you know, with write my writing check before I need to get another one. But for me to get comfortable with leaving my day job and being a full time creator, that has to come with obviously a certain amount of income to support my family, you know, my bills, my responsibilities, and I don't more and more I don't see that as coming from just screenwriting. You know, I see that coming. as, you know, my tax return at the end of the year, most likely in that situation is going to look like okay, here's the you know, here's a you know, 50 k rewrite I did on a screenplay. And here's the eight Grand i made on Amazon for my book sale, here's the you know, the the 2500 for my Patreon account, and you add up all of those sources of revenue, to get at a level where you can support your family. And I think that, again, the writers who were like I only do this one thing, and I can only do that are going to have a harder time because each of those revenue streams is becoming harder and harder to succeed at. So the ones that are open to doing multiple ones, and, you know, seeing where that revenue comes from are going to be the ones that are able to survive as full time creators more easily because they're not relying on that, that you know, that real rare circumstance where like God, I hit it out of the park in that one that one arena.
Alex Ferrari 54:35
So you're suggesting people hustle service while you're saying they have to hustle?
Jeff Willis 54:39
At the risk of quoting what's on your hat? Yes. Hustle might be the appropriate word
Alex Ferrari 54:44
for it. Well, I mean, I'll use an analogy of what happened in my career. I started off as an editor. And I was just a commercial editor. I just did commercials in in Miami when I first started out. And then when I came to LA I realized that like oh, Everybody here has a final cut machine, everyone's an editor here, I'm gonna go into color grading. So I now can edit. And then I started color grading because it was less competition, a color grading. And then when everybody started getting more color grading systems, I'm like, Well, you know what I'm gonna go. So do post production supervision, because I kind of understand the whole thing. So now I do three jobs in post. And then I'll also do an online editorial, I'll be on the editorial too. So like, I could package and master films as well, to get it all out there. Oh, and I'm doing some VFX I'll just become a VFX supervisor as well, because I could do VFX on the independent films. So now I was I because of that, I was always eating. I was always working, because I spread myself out. And I know guys who would like know, all I do is edit promos. All I do is I'm just a trailer editor or I'm just, I only do TV. Like they really specialize and I was very old mentality to do. And when things started to close down, that reel was only promos and they couldn't get work, they had to start from scratch as opposed to really diversifying their their skill set and what opt in what services that they can provide to a potential client. And I agree with you 100%, that writers now if you're a writer, you should write. And there's so many either between side hustles of writing blog posts, writing other things that you can get on a freelance basis through up work or Fiverr, things like that just to write and get paid to write. There's books, there's podcasts, you know, from your books, there's web series, there's so many ways to start generating revenue. And then then additional, like you said, Oh, and I could maybe do that rewrite for 20,000 or, or $50,000. And putting it all together, at the end of the year, you're like, oh, man, I had had a pretty good year, as opposed to the old school mentality of like, I just screen right. And I only got to screening great jobs, and I made 100 grand this year, which is not a bad thing. But for whatever reason, if those two jobs go away, I'm screwed.
Jeff Willis 57:02
Yeah, well, I mean, it's it, you know, and it's to the point of, you know, again, treating, treating your career, like a business you are you are the brand, you are the business. And if you were in, you know, in any other field, the idea of only having one stream of income would be insane. If you were in financial services, and someone said, and a financial advisor was like, you know what you should do, you should pick one stock you really like and put all your money in that like, like, you would not hire that guy again. Same thing, though, like the same thing is true of a place like Disney. If Disney decided at one point, we're not going to do anything else, no theme parks, no merge, no whatever, we're only going to put movies in theaters, like they would like their dividend would revolt. But you know, so it's kind of one of those things where, again, if you are a serious, creative professional, and you see yourself as a company or a brand or something like why would you not also think that diversification is important for you? Why would you think that only screenwriting is the only way forward, and the only source of revenue you can have, rather than looking for other ways. And, you know, you have a number of other, you know, services, and I've had a bunch of people on this podcast that have other you know, businesses, and you see that all the time, you know, someone who's a writer, and a script consultant, or, and a, you know, and they do coverage work,
Alex Ferrari 58:19
and they have an online course or something,
Jeff Willis 58:21
or they have an online course, or they work a day job like that, like that mentality, I think is so important. And I have so many writer friends I know, that feel like they are a failure as a writer, if they, if they can't make ends meet from their screenwriting every year. That's not they, they say, you know, gee, I had I had a good year, the day before, the year before, but this year, I made zero, you know, and it's been a real struggle. And I always kind of, why don't you go out? Like, why don't you go out and get something else that will help you know, pay the bills or will help pass the time or, you know, will help make you feel creatively fulfilled? Like there is no reason you have to only stay in one lane when every other, you know, financial advice in every other area of your life is diversify, diversify, diversify, so that you can both manage, you know, manage disappointments and also, you know, and and mitigate risk, like, you should be doing that in your creative endeavors as well.
Alex Ferrari 59:12
Without without question, and that was what I did with post, like, I was a director, but directing jobs were few and far between. And they, you know, like, just like getting that screenwriting gig, getting a directing gig, you know, someone's gonna give you two $300,000 it like it's a lot of, to, you know, have a budget to do a commercial or do a music video or whatever. I couldn't survive on just doing that. So I always had post production as my base. And I always that's what and then then and because I was able to build that business up as a direct wreck and go, Oh, by the way, if you hire me as a director, I'll throw in post or I'll package it all together.
Jeff Willis 59:47
I was just gonna say The other benefit is, you know, his additional areas of expertise that then become, you know, value adds to, you know, to what you're doing. And, again, you know, maybe it's not, maybe it's not as you know, If it's an if it's a super low budget indie, then yeah, maybe it's like, I'm the director and also the post supervisor and also the colorist. Well, yeah,
Alex Ferrari 1:00:05
no, but for commercial work for commercial work for music, or for client work for, even to even series, like I've gotten, I did a series for legendary, where I did everything. And, and it was a good budget. But if it wasn't me doing everything, we couldn't have done it, because the budget was too low was perfect for me.
Jeff Willis 1:00:24
Right. But then but then that that experience also translates into if you just want a director job, I mean, if you're going up for you know, directing a Marvel movie or whatever, like, that's a completely different thing. You can also then say, but I've worked in post, I understand what a post supervisor does, oh, you understand what a VFX person does. So you're not gonna have a problem with me not understanding and appreciating the value that other people add. And like, being able to communicate with them and being able to effectively execute those areas become really, really important. And I mean, I, I kind of have that in, in my job, too, which is, you know, I work in primarily business affairs. And there are an awful lot of people I work with that have only ever worked in business affairs. So they don't understand the larger context beyond like negotiating the agreement and getting you getting the deal done. And as someone who has spent most of his career bouncing around, I've worked in creative, I've worked in physical production, I've worked in operations. I'm one of, you know, at the risk of tooting my own horn, I think one of my strengths, as you know, as an executive is having experience with that whole process, so that I can say, I understand why creative is asking us for this thing, I understand the limitations that we need to go back to them with I understand, you know, from a legal perspective, why we can and can't do that I understand from working with post why that's like why we can't do this. But maybe we can do this instead. And it's such a valuable skill to be able to say, not just here's the one thing I do when I do it well, but here's the thing I do, and I do it well, and I do it well, because I understand all of the different moving pieces I have to interact with and can help explain and work with those areas. Because it's just again, this is such a collaborative business, even if you're a one man show, you know, doing your own thing, like you still have to work with other people. And the more you can understand what where they're coming from and what their needs are like, the better partner, you're going to be with them. And those again, those are the people that get hired over and over again, is that that guy gets me he understands that I have budget constraints to care about. And it's not just about you know how good the script is, you know, that post guy gets me because he knows I need to stay on budget no matter what, but I don't have a lot of money. I need to make the most of what I have, you know, like, those are the kinds of things the people that get hired so often because they give people value.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:38
Yeah, I mean, I can't tell you what, when I was working with directors who were just directors, and they had no idea about the post production process, it used to drive me mad, it just, it would be just so upsetting. Because I'd be like, well, we didn't do this. And this. Well, I don't know how to do anything of that. I'm like, Dude, this is your business man. Like, this is what you do. Why don't you? I don't think you don't have to be an expert in what I do. But you should have a conversation like basic conversation, read a book, Matt.
Jeff Willis 1:03:06
Funny story I had in film school was so my film school had two different tracks, there was the production track, and then there was the like, the studies track, right? And
Alex Ferrari 1:03:16
so one makes money and one track makes money the other one doesn't make?
Jeff Willis 1:03:20
Well, exactly. So So what ended up being funny is the production track was all for the, you know, aspiring directors that, you know, you know, they wanted to make their own films. And the the studies track was where I ended up going, because there were so many more interesting classes, there was a production management class, that's where the writing classes were like, there were so many different areas that I was interested in. And it was so funny, because by the time film school ended, I was the go to producer on all my friends shows, because they were all on the production track. But none of them knew how to like actually make the thing. They just knew how to, like, most of them knew how to boss actors around. And they knew, you know, some of them kind of paid attention in cinematography class have kind of got a sense of like angles and light and lenses and stuff like that. But beyond that, they couldn't tell you, you know, how to do a schedule, or a budget, or where to show up or the logistics of having, you know, a company move.
So, it's funny how, you know, it's funny how, like you said, people who want to be just directors or whatever, and have no interest in learning the other areas, like that's where the real value is, is even if you do it, even if you haven't spent a decade doing that job, a director that knows what each person that works for them does and what their capacity and requirements are is such a valuable addition because they're the guy that can be like, yeah, okay, I get it. Like you're stressed out, you're over budget, you know, what do you need me to do? Or Gee, like the schedules, you know, you were running behind today, what do I need to do to catch up? And that's the stuff again, that you know, that has that makes you a working professional rather than someone who occasionally gets work and you know, like, I cannot count the number of directors that I've worked with that, you know, especially on big studio movies, they get sidelined when they can't deliver on time. It's just like, Okay, great, like you had fun doing your creative stuff. We're gonna go finish the day now, because we have eight more pages to shoot. You know, it's just right.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:07
And that's the other thing going. Going back to the screenwriting aspect of it. I think a screenwriter who understands production or at least understands, like we were saying earlier, understands costs, and what things do cost and time and things like that, when they're doing the rewrite when they're when they're, you know, hired to do a polish. And if they, like you said, if they can shave dollars off and still able to tell that story, you will work constantly, because it's all about for the for the studio, or whoever's putting up the money, it's about ROI, return on investment, if you can return more money to them, then you will always work. And that's why it's, you know, directors, writer, directors like Robert Rodriguez, has worked constantly throughout his career because he's able to produce high quality products, you'd like him don't like them irrelevant. Tyler Perry, a lot of people don't like his stuff. He's laughing all the way to the deck. He just I think I just read somewhere that he shot 42 episodes of his show in like four or five days is crazy. Like, I'm just curious, I would love to just be a fly on the wall to see how he's doing, I'm assuming is very played like, where it's just like, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, and they just cover the hell out of it. And we're out the door. But his audience is good. And look at a writer. Look, that's a perfect example of what we're talking about look at a writer who wanted to be a screenwriter who wanted to make movies, but it couldn't break in. So what did he do, he started writing plays. And when nobody and then he started producing his own plays, then he would go on tour with his own place. And he built something up for himself and built up this community and built up this, this, you know, this world, this ecosystem, if you will, of all this stuff that he was doing with Medea and all that stuff, to the point where he finally got a shot with diary of an angry black woman, which then exploded and then he leveraged that and then and then over the course of last 20 years, he's literally built quietly, he's built this empire where now he is the only executive, excuse me, the only filmmaker I know. And I don't even think Lucas had this Lucas had other toys, but he built an entire studio for himself.
Jeff Willis 1:07:22
Yeah, it's so funny. So like, I worked with the producer this one time and again, most people probably wouldn't know wouldn't know his name. But like he had a very similar to like, kind of like the way Jason Blundell has been house where, like, Yeah, he had a formula for the way he made stuff. And he made a lot of money making movies over the years to the point where he had bought himself basically, you know, a lot, you know, it like it like it where he could shoot and he had a backlog built and everything. And it was funny working with him, because so many of the notes were, you know, I don't have an airport set. But I do have a coffee shop, a restaurant, a you know, whatever. So make it fit in one of those very corpsman
Alex Ferrari 1:07:54
esque, very corpsman esque.
Jeff Willis 1:07:56
Exactly. But you know, it was what it was one of those things right? Again, like, you may look down on the fact that he makes, you know, kind of cheesy movies that are all kind of the same. But like his model was, I don't spend $1 over a million dollars to make it because I sell it to the cable networks for 1.5. And I do that eight times a year, like I don't like there's nothing stupid about that business model where you're making 500 grand eight times over every year, like clockwork, you know, and you have your model, you know what you're building, you know what you're shooting like, it's just, it's it's funny how often how often people try to, like, divest creativity from business and see them like, see them as as negatives are opposite sides of a coin, where it's like, oh, if you do something that's smart business, it can't possibly be creative. And I'm like, are you kidding me doing eight movies a year with the same sets and making them all seem different, is about the most creative thing I can think of just too much more than like, I have an original set that I built for this one movie, and then I tear it all down to the end.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:55
And again, if you're Spielberg or Nolan, or you know, or these giants, that's great. But that's not that's the exception to the rule, and that everybody's ever going to be Spielberg and no one's you know, or Cameron or Scorsese or any of these giants. You got to build you, you got to walk your own path and build your own world, I think and I think we are now in the the age of the entrepreneurial screenwriter, the entrepreneurial filmmaker, the film entrepreneur, as I call it, because that is the way forward. I think a lot of people are still writing and making films or trying to make films like it's 1997. And that world has gone literally now. With COVID
Jeff Willis 1:09:43
Yeah, it is. So it's so much harder to to work within the system when there is so much stuff out there. And again, it's about attention. It's about getting someone who again is in a position to pay you to do something. It's about getting their attention and getting their interest. And again, like I, you know, there are, there are, there are some executives I know that are old school, like, you know, I read scripts, and that's all I do every day. And then I find a good script, I meet the writer, and that's it. But I mean, like, it's that there are so many more executives I know now that have diverse interests, you know, and they're constantly watching web series and surfing YouTube and looking for you know, tick tock or whatever, like, whatever the new thing is, trying to find interesting, you know, interesting voices, so that they can come in and talk to them. And I do really wonder how, like, I would be curious. And again, I don't work in development. So I don't have any, any hard and fast numbers on this. But I would genuinely be interested in you know, if you look at the total number of, of meetings and executive takes these days are creative exec, how many of them are, you know what I am, I am a screenwriter. I write screenplays, you read my screenplay, liked it, and now you want to meet with me versus like, hey, you're an interesting content creator that I found somewhere else, I really want to, I really want to see, you know, see what you can, I just wanna have a conversation with you and talk and see if there's anything there.
Alex Ferrari 1:11:03
Right. And I think the second conversation is much more interesting, for me, at least, then, than the first one, I because I and I think we could leave it at this. If if you're able to, to express yourself creatively, as a writer, and make money doing all these other things that we're talking about, whether it's writing novels, self publishing, in a web series, graphic novels, podcasts of of your stories, whatever those other avenues are, if you're able to build a small business, around your art, whatever that is, and that art could bring in 50 to $70,000 a year, or whatever the number is for you to be able to provide for you and your family, whatever that because depending on where you live in the world, that number can vary. Whatever that if you can do that. And keep doing that for years, year after year. Why are you so concerned about making it big somewhere else, you're you're living the dream at that point. And and then if someone shows up great, but you're happy in this process, as opposed to being so on me, I don't know about you how many writers you know are just angry, bitter, unhappy, because it hasn't worked out the way they want it to, because they've been sold a raw deal, or this illusion that we've been talking about, where you write the spec script, get a million bucks and just go off in, you know, into your Hawaii, Hawaiian palace somewhere, you know, and surf all day, and then right when you want, that's not a really practical thing. And I think they've been sold a raw deal. I think they've sold a myth. And they're pissed about it, where I think if you're able to build out a business, around your art, whatever that is, then you're happy. And that took me a long time to figure out because I was the angry and bitter filmmaker for for most of my career. And I always say if you don't know, an angry and bitter filmmaker, if you don't know, an angry and bitter screenwriter, you are the angry and bitter.
Jeff Willis 1:13:04
No, it's true. Like I think, yeah, to leave it, you know, I think that the constant evolution of your expectations is something that's really important, you know, and I was the same way, you know, I, when I graduated from film school, you know, again, you have the sights on the on the screenwriter, writing, you know, writing Marvel movies, seeing my name on screen and stuff like that. And what's funny is, over the years, I, you know, obviously, and then I hit that disappointment that everyone does, where it's like, okay, that, that my life didn't work out the way that I just assumed it would at 22. But then, but then you start thinking about really kind of the things that are important, right, you start getting your, you know, your bucket list of, you know, experiences together. And it's funny, because, you know, now that now that I've worked at Marvel, you know, one of one of the nice perks is that they credit all of their in house people on their films, right. So, you know, it's one of those things where it's like, I have gotten a credit on the Marvel movie, does it say credits executive, you know, halfway down the crawl rather than, you know, written by? Sure. Is that really that important to me that that, you know, the writing credit is? Is that the only thing that will make me happy? No, not so much. You know, I, you know, I've always, I've always loved studio lights, and I've worked on one now. So you know, you know, that bucket list is done, you know, I've been paid for my writing, like, not a lot, but I've gotten a check that says, you know, for your, for your writing services. And it's just been important to reevaluate once you do have that, you know, that hard crushing reality check of like things, not working out how you want, and finding out what really is important to you, and deciding, you know, what makes you happy. And for me, it's one of those things where, like, I really enjoy my day job at Marvel, I like the people I work with. I love those movies. So the chance to work on work on them, even if it's you know, you know, vetting the names in the intro, which is like not terribly exciting, but like, it's something that I find immensely satisfying, and I enjoy it's something that I don't I wouldn't mind doing as a day job until I you know, until the day I retire. And then on top of that, I'm able to supplement it with creative projects. That interest me, I can make a short film when I want, I can write a script, I can write a book. And most importantly to me, I don't ever have to worry about that thing being a financial success, because I have a day job that pays my bills for me. So everything else is just on top of that. And what what's been really nice about that is, to me, that is my definition of a successful life. It's my successful career, where I have found a way to be happy and content with the things I have achieved and able to set more realistic goals than just being like, Oh my God, if I don't, if I don't have a written by credit on a Marvel movie, before I before I retire, like my whole life's meant nothing up to this point, you know. And it's hard because that in comparison to a lot of writers I know that are full time writers and won't allow themselves to do anything else, like full time screenwriters that won't take a day job or whatever. And I just see so much struggle, and so much frustration with, you know, the living paycheck to paycheck or the feast or famine nature of the business. And it's just, I always think it's important to really, like, really reevaluate those things that are important to you. And for me, writing is important, but it's not so important that I can't also you know, pay the bills of the day job or find other ways of feeling like I've I've met certain thresholds for success that I have for myself. And I think these days, that's, that's what a lot of writers and other creatives are faced with, which is, you need to figure out your definition of success. And it's probably not going to be what you originally thought it was, you're probably not going to make your money from where you thought you were, you're probably not going to make the the fame and fortune from where you thought you were, it's probably going to come in a different form.
Alex Ferrari 1:16:29
Are you okay with that or not? And I don't know about you, but when I, when I didn't get to the Oscars at 25. I said,
Jeff Willis 1:16:38
I was sitting at home being like, man, I should add it. I you
Alex Ferrari 1:16:41
know, and then I'm like, well, I'll wait till 30. And then you push the 35. And then you always have that conversation like oh man, but Spielberg make jaws when he was 27. You know, Orson Welles made, you know, Citizen Kane, when he's 23. You know, Tarantino was what 31 when he made or 30, when he made a reservoir, you know, it every year that that that those lines, just keep going back and back till you finally just go, you know what, I'm just not those guys, I got to walk my own path. And when you become comfortable with that, life becomes a lot more pleasant in this business. And I think that's where a lot of the pain comes from, when you're just holding on to these ideas that you've been taught, or you've heard of growing up in this business. And when they don't come to fruition, which, by the way, 99.9% of people don't get their dream exactly the way they want it. It's heartbreaking.
Jeff Willis 1:17:36
Yeah, like, I can't remember if you saw it on Twitter, it was it was about a month ago now. But there was a survey going around, about how old were they got their flat directing, producing, you know, like writing gig. And like, it's so funny, cuz like, the, the, the stereotype or the assumption is that, you know, everyone that makes it in Hollywood is, you know, some, you know, 23 year old, fresh out of college, you know, success story. And the reality is, I think they said that of all of the, like the Oscar winning directors, the last 10 years, like the average age is like, 41, where they directed their first film, you know, and it's just, it's like, it is, and maybe it's reassuring, because I'm, you know, approaching 40, you know, in a little over a year. So, you know, maybe that's reassuring to me, but, you know, whether it's that or whether it's author saying I didn't write my first book until I was 44, or 50. Like, there is no, you're not out of time, you're not trying, like, you can't break in any time, it could be your next project, it could be your 10th project from now, like, there is no hard and fast rule, as long as you're willing to still go for it. And still, again, to quote your hat hustle, you know, like, you can be you can break in with anything at any time, you know, and that's what motivates me to keep going is, you know, the idea that, that an opportunity could be just around the corner could pay off.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:50
Absolutely. Listen, I made my first feature 41. So it took me 20 years to break through them in the mental block of making a feature film, and I just got when I did it. So and that was that's my path. And by the way, the first thing you do is not going to be Reservoir Dogs. It's not going to be paranormal activity. It's not going to be Iron Man. It's not going to be this monster cultural hit that that you dream about. It could be and if you If that's you, please call me You can come on the show. But but generally speaking for the rest of us, it's not that and you just have to be okay with that and keep going forward on your own path. Because you're not going to be Orson Welles you're not going to be staying in not going to be guaranteed or you're not going to be Sorkin. You're not going to be black or Joe Astor house, those that that's not the world that we live in. You know, look at Jordan, look at Jordan Peele. He wasn't Comedy Central, doing skit comedy for years. And yeah, and all of a sudden, he became the this generation's Hitchcock, like, literally overnight, like coming from comedy and he just like I'm gonna write, like one of the better horror screenplays ever written. Oh, yeah. I'm gonna do that now. And I'm gonna also direct it like, you see, I just want people listening to it. I promise you, Jordan, Peele did not sit down and go, you know what I'm going to do about a decade of comedy on a cable network, and I'm going to do really well on that. But then I'm going to shift gears and I'm going to do horror, and I'm going to be rebrand my entire self as a horror guy, because that's what I really love. I guarantee you that wasn't a conversation, a journey. It just kind of happened. Now I'm going to ask you a couple questions. Ask all my guests. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life,
Jeff Willis 1:20:36
I think it's probably applies to both the film business and life, but it's, it's basically kind of what we were talking about, you know, like, don't wait for someone to give you permission to do something. And the corollary to that, which is like, no one is going to advocate for you better than yourself. I spent a lot of years waiting for people to like, recognize my hard work and waiting to reward me for your genius, your genius or your genius for my for my genius. Yeah, exactly. And it's funny, because I learned that from my, I learned that from my parents who both came from this, this world where you work at a job and you just do a good job, and the company takes care of you until you retire. And that is most definitely not been my experience in the professional world lately. But you know, I spent a lot of time just saying, Well, look, if I just do a really good job, and I come and I show up to work every day, eventually, like, you know, I will get all the things that I want. And it took me a long time to realize how often that's just not true. People go, Oh, thanks for doing the work, appreciate it, have a good day. And you have I've had to fight for everything that I've wanted by hard work, you know, dedication, you know, persistence. And it took me a long time to realize that, you know, I was waiting around for someone to give me permission or recognize that I was able to do more than than I was doing. And and now that I've kind of learned that lesson, it's a lot easier for me to to advocate for myself and go out there and do the things I really want to do. Because, you know, I I know that the inspiration in the museum is going to start with me.
Alex Ferrari 1:22:12
Now, um, what are three screenplays that every screenwriter should read?
Jeff Willis 1:22:17
I think the three scripts that I think affected me the most and are great examples of you know, people writing that great scripts that really got the noticed was passengers by john spades is fantastic. story of your life by air hyzer, which became a rival, which he got nominated for an Oscar for was blew my mind. And then my friend, Bob signs wrote a script called orphans that got made into an indie movie called extracurricular activities last year. And he has had that script as his calling card script for 20 years. And he still gets it. And they still email him and say, Oh my God, that's one of the best scripts I've read the the twist at the end just blew my mind.
Alex Ferrari 1:22:58
So and it finally got made.
Jeff Willis 1:23:00
And it finally got made. Yeah, they spent 20 years it got optioned, I think eight or nine different times. Like it just never like, it was a true like, if you ever want it, you should have him on the podcast at some point, please about process. Yes. Because he is like the quintessential, like 20 year overnight success story where everyone's like, Oh, my God, you got your movie made? That's great. He's like, yeah, 20 years after I optioned it the first time.
Alex Ferrari 1:23:25
Absolutely. Bob, what's gonna be Bob is gonna be on the shelf. Bob wants to be on the show. I want to have Bob on the show. And now where can people find you and the work that you're doing?
Jeff Willis 1:23:34
Most of the stuff I do. These days, I'm on Twitter most often. I'm at j Willis at one. I also have a somewhat defunct blog, all rights reserved. WRI t s, which is where I kind of post articles on the business of writing whenever I can think of that. And then ultimately, I'm I'm working on a business of writing book that hopefully will will help some people out, hoping to have it published by the end of the year. But follow me on Twitter. That's where that's where I make most of my announcements and and make most of my rants on the business end of things.
Alex Ferrari 1:24:05
I need to talk to you about your marketing because when you say that defunct bla bla bla you know, blog, it's just generally not very appetizing.
Jeff Willis 1:24:12
I feel like I feel like I couldn't in good conscience say it was active when I think the last post was like from February of this year, so
Alex Ferrari 1:24:20
Well, that's fair. There's been a lot of people who stopped posting in February because of obvious reasons. It just like the world is upside.
Jeff Willis 1:24:27
It wasn't for lack of wanting to update the website. Let me just say that.
Alex Ferrari 1:24:32
Jeff, man, thank you so much for being on the show. I really appreciate your your take on the business and hopefully some screenwriters listening right now will start thinking about taking their career in a different path that can make them happier and more successful. So I do appreciate your your implement. Thank you so much, my friend
Jeff Willis 1:24:51
is supposed to be on the show. Thanks so much for having me.
Alex Ferrari 1:24:54
I want to thank Jeff for coming on the show and inspiring the tribe today. Think a little bit differently about how you can make money with your screenplays. I plan to be doing some more stuff in regards to the entrepreneurial screenwriter in the coming months, so keep an eye out for that. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, please head over to the show notes at bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/088. And guys, if you need some help with developing your story, I have a new course at IFH Academy called the foundations of screenwriting story development taught by Jeffrey Calhoun, who is the writer of the best selling book, The guide for every screenwriter. So just head over to bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/storycourse. Thank you so much for listening, guys. As always, keep on writing no matter what. Stay safe out there, and I'll talk to you soon.
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