BPS 098: Screenwriting a Road Trip Comedy with Jason Shuman

I have a treat for the tribe today. Last week we had screenwriter Eduardo Cisneros on the show discussing his new film Half Brothers. Today we have his co-writer and producer of the film Jason Shuman. Jason is a writer and producer who has made over 20 motion pictures grossing more than $500 million worldwide as well as produced over 100 episodes of television.

Shuman has produced four films that reached number one at the box office with Darkness FallsThe MessengersBangkok Dangerous, and the critically acclaimed Lone Survivor. Other well-known films include the 2017 docudrama Rebel In The Rye, Little Black BookDaddy Day CampMiddle Men and the beloved comedy Role Models.

On the television side, Shuman has also produced shows including TBS comedy Are We There Yet? with Ice Cube, and served as Executive Producer on the FX show Anger Management and the Emmy® nominated TV movie, Dawn Anna. His new film is Half Brothers.

Renato, a successful Mexican aviation executive, is shocked to discover he has an American half-brother he never knew about, the free-spirited Asher. The two very different half-brothers are forced on a road journey together masterminded by their ailing father, tracing the path their father took as an immigrant from Mexico to the US.

I first met Jason years ago at the Sundance Film Festival where I spoke to him on the Indie Film Hustle Podcast about the film he had in the fest called Rebel in the Rye. In this episode, we discuss his career as a producer, how he went “all in” to become a serious screenwriter, how Danny Strong (Gilmore Girls, Empire, Billions) helped him become a better storyteller, and his epically funny new film Half Brothers.

Enjoy my conversation with Jason Shuman.

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Alex Ferrari 0:03
I'd like to welcome to the show Jason Shuman, man, how you doing Jason?

Jason Shuman 0:24
Hey, good. Great to be back. Alex. Good to see you. Thank you for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:34
Yes. This is your first time on the bulletproof screening podcast but you are a friend of the show from indie film hustle back in the day. We we did a when I did my I think it was my first Sundance interviews. When I was at Sundance doing interviews and you were one of my I was lucky enough to talk to you while you were there with rebel in the Rye.

Jason Shuman 3:51
Man, that was a for me. That was an amazing Sundance, my favorite Sundance that I've ever experienced. It was so great.

Alex Ferrari 3:58
And it was the shining outside it was snowing so much that year it was like, like, but no joke was like a like a dilution of snow outside. It was insane. how crazy

Jason Shuman 4:12
It was special because I loved rebel and working long and so I was so proud of the movie, but also because I had so many friends that wanted to come to be a movie premiere. So I rented this like house and it was like about 14 of my friends. Some who brought their wives. So it was couples and it was like a fraternity house I had there were like four rooms and the rooms had bunk beds in it. So they were like husbands and wives sleeping together and bunk beds all so if there was this I had a great sort of thing and I was like, Hey look, I'll I can promise you as if you come with me everywhere. I can get you in if you roam on your own. Good luck to you. And so everyone was like it was like my little entourage Had the whole time it was best.

Alex Ferrari 5:03
Do you remember? Do you remember what we what we did the interview in that in that penta. And that kind of like penthouse area was like it was like that. That's where I was staying. So it's like this kind of kids camp for grownups going to Sundance. It's like camp for grownups, if you stay anywhere within the vicinity of Main Street, unless you're rolling really hard, and you're one of the big stars, you get your own private everything, but generally, but generally, there's just no space. So that you have to get you got people, you know, who are very high end, like people in the industry, big producers and directors and actors. And they're, they're doing exactly what you said, they're sleeping bags around the corner somewhere to Matt. They're like the two of them in a bunk bed. Like it's,

Jason Shuman 5:50
Happy to be here.

Alex Ferrari 5:51
Yeah, it's, it's, it is such an it's just an amazing experience. And I can't wait to actually experience it again. Hopefully, I don't get it back, you know, hopefully after it. But so before we get started, can you tell the audience how you got into the business because you have a unique path to your screenwriting side?

Jason Shuman 6:11
Well, I mean, I look i was i was a film geek. Since I was 10 years old, I was riding my bike to the mall to see everything in anything. I had a note from my mom, that in the movie theaters knew me to let me see R rated movies if I wanted to. Because I had that note that would never fly today, by the way, like I was just a little film geek dreaming of going to Hollywood and making movies and, and my dream was to go to USC film school. So when I got in, I thought like the heavens had parted. And like I was anointed the next coming. And then you get to orientation. And you realize, so did the other 60 people that got in everyone felt the same way. So you kind of have to have a big wake up call and say, all right, you know, I'm just an 18 year old freshmen time to work. And so I got to go to USC film school and meet the most incredible group of friends that I still am very close with to this day. And I had a wonderful experience there. I got to do internships because I was living at USC, and you get to be so close to Hollywood. And so I didn't know I was just doing everything in anything making movies on the weekends, doing internships on days, I didn't have classes, and one of my internships led to an internship with a guy named Marnell, Koeppel Sim, who passed away two years ago. But that was a big thing. Because he was he was a huge producer at the time, she's huge and won an Oscar for Petunia, just a couple years earlier, it had the fugitive, which was not only ox opposite, but got nominated for an Oscar. And he was in the middle of making seven devil's advocate eraser. outbreak. And so there I was interning for this for this company, this man, he had this huge production company at Warner Brothers. And so I felt like I had like the king of the world, even though I was just making copies and getting coffee. And that led to a job when I graduated. So I got some my first, you know, big break coming out of there. But to be honest, I kind of had wanted to be a writer, director, as we all do, and we, but because I was offered this job, everyone was like, Well, why don't you just take it? You can just learn what do I know? I'm 22 years old. So I took the job. And I spent a couple years there and it was a great sort of induction into the business from a Reno film school is not real reality.

Alex Ferrari 8:48
No, stop, stop. Stop it. You mean to tell me when you're out in the real world. They don't talk about Kurosawa all the time.

Jason Shuman 8:59
My favorite freshman year, my buddy herb Ratner, still a close friend. He goes, he calls me up. It's like a Tuesday night and he goes, man, there's like a sneak preview of Philadelphia, with Denzel and Tom Hanks, we got to go and I was like, I have a geology test tomorrow. And he's like, we're talking about, you know, who cares about the geology is let's go see this movie. And I was like, you're right. I'm a college student. Now I don't have to study for the geology does that though. So my, my, my going rogue as a college student was not going to that party and getting drunk on Tuesday night. It was like going to the man's Chinese and see a sneak preview. That to me was like being the rebel.

Alex Ferrari 9:45
This was your Animal House. This was your house.

Jason Shuman 9:49
So there was a lot of that in college, a lot of sneaking off. So, um, so I worked for Arnold for many years and rose up there. And then I had this most amazing opportunity to start my own production company with a guy named William sherek. And so we went off and I quit, I quit that job, I went, and we started to make some movies. And one of the original ones was darkness falls, which I can't believe now was like 18 years ago.

Alex Ferrari 10:24
And if I, if I can stop you for a second, because when we spoke the first time, I actually know the story of darkness falls, how it got produced. I'm, like, one of my co hosts was with me, Sebastian, he was like, how do you know that? I'm like, dude, I'm a film geek. And any story about a filmmaker who made it like that any because that was a lottery ticket. Essentially, he had a great short, that he had a great short that got picked up. And then they turned it into a feature, which then was a big hit at the time. And I was like, of course, I know that story every you know, if you have to know that just kind of like they'll mariachis and the clerks and like he was one of those. He was one of those guys that had that that window. Yeah. So it was great.

Jason Shuman 11:08
Like he was he is and was the nicest guy Jonathan, he became close friend of William and eyes. And so it was a magical experience, because we go off and make this movie. We're all in our mid 20s. And we shot it in Australia and, and anyway, we bring it back in the studio didn't know what they sent these three guys off doing. And then they just put it God bless Tom sherek. Who, who was like, let's put it out on Superbowl weekend. And everyone was like, Super Bowl Weekend. That's a two day weekend. No one goes to the movies on Super Bowl Sunday. And he's like, Yeah, but there's no competition. So we came out in 2003 Superbowl weekend and we were number one for this little movie. And that sort of helped William and I get a deal at the studio and and and then we were off to the races making a bevy of movies over the next 10 years. And we just flying over genres like we did the Messenger's Sony we did little black book, we did role models, we were just hopping all over the place with comedies with horror with romantic movies, some family movies, so it was a great run. I really loved it.

Alex Ferrari 12:24
Now, let me ask you a question though. How as a as a producing team or as a production company? Yeah. The the standard frame of thought is to pigeonhole yourself or at least it's your, your, the heart like Blum house, he's like, you can't Blum house, you know, slapstick comedy, I'm not gonna probably go see. But, um, maybe I would, because I'd be curious. But generally as a as a production company, or as a producer, you kind of want to knit yourself like Arnold was an action. He was the action dude, he was the actor. He was like, he reminded me very much of Joel Silver like him and and Joel

Jason Shuman 12:56
Intern are as well.

Alex Ferrari 12:58
Yeah. So that's, we have to have a conversation about that another day. But, but yeah, those kind of guys. So you were jumping all I saw me when looking at your IMDb, you're everywhere, like role models horror, like it's all over the place.

Jason Shuman 13:11
That's my own fault. And probably to my own detriment, because we had we came right out of the gate with two fairly successful horror movies and darkness falls and the messengers, and we were getting a lot of offers for people like can make horror here can make horror there. But the truth is, I'm just I love movies, and I love stories. And I love all kinds of movies. Like I'm just not I see everything. I don't care small, big, which genre you are. I see it all indie movies, and, and I just was like, William, I can't sit in another meeting and talk about the mythology of these of the ghosts and what their motivations are. And I started to become creatively stagnant because, you know, yeah, we had to meet in a row and they were hits but we probably developed 15 others at the time. So I was in so many meetings and reading so many scripts having to do with this thing and that thing, you know, blumhouse came later and certainly he grabbed that with paranormal and he wrote it and that's probably what William and I should have done. But I was so excited to read little black book. I was so excited to read Bangkok dangerous, so excited to deal with being meetings on role models and talk about like, the big set pieces because I loved Judd Apatow and I our offices were right next to Judd Apatow and I was like, but I want to make movies like him too. So it's great. Just to have my own wanting to flex the that muscle of like being just telling different kinds of stories. So that's what we just kept doing.

Alex Ferrari 14:53
And it seems to have worked out okay for you. You've done, you've done no complaints. It's like and I think Once you've set yourself up as either I mean for screenwriters would you recommend screenwriters stay kind of on, on on a genre at the beginning, so at least they kind of put themselves in that box. And then they can kind of spread out like once you're Aaron Sorkin, you can write whatever you want. Once you're Shane Black, you can pretty much write whatever you want. But at the beginning, the town kind of likes to know what you are, if you're a horror, got your horror, got your comedy, comedy,

Jason Shuman 15:24
because your reps need to know how to sell you they need to know how to introduce you to the town. And that is done easier for them. And for you, if you kinda like this is the I want to make the next blumhouse movies or I want to be the next jet Apatow if you can kind of sell yourself that way. It just makes their job easier, whatever that is,

Alex Ferrari 15:45
right. But but you actually because you were jumping all over the place that became kind of your brand. Like, oh, he he does everything.

Jason Shuman 15:54
That's what people don't. They're like, Well, yeah, you you can look at my IMDb and you're like Jesus, but I you have to understand when I went in to make daddy day camp, which seems funny now, right? But Sony called William and I and said, Would you be interested in producing it? Like the kid in me is like I grew up on those Herbie the lovebug movies and can't movies like meatballs. And I was just like, Wait a second, I am going to submerse myself in can't movies. And I am going to try to make the greatest can't movie for the this generation of eight to 12 year olds. So it's like you think like, Schumann, why would you go off and make daddy day camp? It's like, well, because to me, that was an exciting opportunity to give kids of that generation, a camp movie that maybe they would watch over and over again. And I went nuts. I watched so many camp movies, not just the ones that I remembered. I was trying to submerse myself and what made camp movies fun, what kids would want to see today. So it's like, even though the result may have not been this beloved, like legendary can't movie that was the attempt that was and that goes for everything. When we were making Bangkok dangerous, you know, it's like, we were thought we were making, we tried to make an action movie that could parallel, you know, the action movies that they and we thought there would be like, this was Bangkok dangerous, then there would be like Shanghai dangerous, then there would be we were trying to set up so people have to understand sometimes it works like role models, lone survivor, etc. And sometimes it does, you tried everything and just fell a little short. It's not like you didn't work any harder. Right? You did any more to make it a great movie. So you just put them out there and go, let's see what happens.

Alex Ferrari 17:56
Now I was when we spoke. When we spoke at Sundance those years ago, you were at that point talking about getting into screenwriting, and that you were moving to New York to work with the work with Danny Thank you, Danny, with Danny strong and, and kind of just like, you know, go under his wing a little bit. You were telling us like, Hey, I'm gonna, I'm gonna learn how to be a screenwriter. So what made you jump from being a producer to wanting to go into the very non competitive world of screenwriting?

Jason Shuman 18:30
There's many things, it's just you get a little older. And you start to say to yourself, how do I want to keep challenging, but there was also that kid in me who look I had what William and I got to do at the young age, we got to do it and the opportunities I had learning from Arnold at 22 years old. I wouldn't take that back for anything. But there was that 1415 year old and me that was like, but I wanted to, I wanted to write I wanted to create stories from the beginning not to sit with writers who and I love and respect Good, good screenwriting. So I thought either I put my money where my mouth is, and see if I have it in me, or just, you know, go and continue to be a producer and keep trying to evolve that way. And it was Danny who called me and said, I want you to drop everything. And I want you to move to New York. And I just want you to like, Come meet with me every day. And just let's talk screenplays let's I want you to write and I'm going to read your stuff. And I'm going to critique it. And I'm just going to give you a bootcamp and I was like, how can I turn this down? That's amazing. We had been pals since 18 since USC film school, but like Danny at that time was, was at the like he had just won every award for game change and the height of the butler coming out and he he hadn't even created Empire yet. Which I got to be sitting there with him while he wrote the pilot for empire that was pretty cool. He kept like turning his computer going like, Is it me? Or does this seem seem really fun to you? And I'd read it and it'd be like cookie, doing something like they have the vision for cookie way, way at the beginning. So I owe it all to Danny. Like, really?

He I did. I did what he said, I left my life in Los Angeles, and I moved to New York. And I sat and wrote every day with him, he texts me in the morning, here's the cafe I'll be at, I'd show up. I do my stuff. He'd be doing his stuff at lunch, I'd asked him a bunch of questions. And when I was ready to show him stuff, he'd read it. And he was brutal. He was brutal with me, but it was helpful. He'd give me all the ways he approached writing all the sort of mottos that he would take how he approached a blank page, how he would approach characters, how we would approach everything. And I just tried to make that habit. And it took a while he, it was a year and a half of writing, handing him stuff and him Wow. shitting on it. And finally, after a year and a half, he thought that maybe I had morphed myself into a writer who could be consistent. I don't think he was looking for a good scene here. And there. He was looking for consistency. He was looking for, like my storytelling to have evolved to a place where he felt like, now I could go off and maybe sell some stuff or, or or had honed my voice. I mean, that's a hell of a friend.

Alex Ferrari 21:39
I gotta say,

Jason Shuman 21:40
yeah. One of the greatest things he taught me. So any screenwriters listening was, he was like, sit down and write write down a list of things you love, and things you hate. Like things, things that anger you because that's where recount came for him. It's like, it's like, he hated that election process, the 2000 election, he was angry about the outcome, and it really boiled his blood. And so, you know, then he goes and buys some books and reads about the Florida recount. And that turns into a story that he outlines. And so that was a big thing for me. You know, like, if you look at a lot of the projects I'm working on now, this show I have at Apple. Eduardo and I are writing short circuit, my HBO show about the Lakers. It's all stuff in the 80s because one of the things I wrote down on that when I would do those exercises is I love the 80s I just do. Yeah, that was my era. I love the music. I love the television. I love the movies. I love the campiness, I love the outfits, I love my memories. I like what malls looked like I liked just that. And so it that list he had me do really reverberated in the work. Not all the work that I've done in the last four or five years, but a lot of it is like things that really angered me are things that I just love so much that I want to live in that world and with those characters. So that was just every I could we could do a whole couple hours on the Danny strong method and how well it works. But it really was,

Alex Ferrari 23:24
I'm not sure I'm not sure everybody can afford that, that that seminar for a year and a half. And I'm not sure Danny has the bandwidth. I know I'm joking, I'm joking. You should you should actually call Danny. Like Danny, I'm just gonna I'm just gonna put out a seminar, it's gonna be called the Danny strong method. I'm not paying you anything, unfortunately. But I think Danny strong. That's amazing. So you said something really interesting. Like, how do you approach a blank page? How is there? is there is there are there some tips because that is the most one of the most daunting things a writer has to do is, and it's not a page anymore. Is that blinking cursor? Generally speaking, yeah. How do you approach a blank screen?

Jason Shuman 24:10
This is it was Danny had always sort of taught me that. Don't get it right, get it written. I don't care if it's the worst scene you've written in the world. And Eduardo subscribes to that same theory. So when I started working with Eduardo was nice to see that like, I have friends I have very successful screenwriter friends, who they'll spend the whole day on that one page so they get it perfect. And God bless them. But I found that what Danny's method and Eduardo's method, which is just just write the worst version of the scene, I don't care because the rewriting it to us is the fun part. So I feel like I've written the most amateurish worst awful scenes that I wouldn't show like my closest friends, but then you go back and you immediately start to realize how lazy it is how cheesy the dialogue is. But at least you're not looking at a blank page anymore. At least you're looking at some semblance of a scene. And somehow, even if you're rewriting the whole thing from scratch, it somehow to me makes it mentally easier. If I'm rewriting a scene that exists, then then staring at that blank page. So that's what I've always done these last couple years.

Alex Ferrari 25:29
I mean, from I can't agree with you more, I always find the rewriting process so much easier than the writing process for me. And when I'm like, I write a lot of Britain, but my books and, and I do my writing, I write, like seeing the announcement from our iPod, my blogs and stuff, but it's just starting sucks. It sucks. But the rewriting part, so sometimes I'm writing I'm like, this sucks. I know. It sucks. I'm just gonna keep Yeah, that Oh, that was horrible. Let me just keep going. Or is this is this is atrocious. I'll never let anyone read this. And I'll just keep going. And then the next morning, I'll come back and like, Okay, this is exactly what I thought it was really hard. But why don't we do this? Why don't we move over this over here. And let me rewrite this, oh, I have a brand new that this really bad paragraph that I wrote, has now set me on another path in my mind. To write a brand new paragraph has nothing to do with the old paragraph. But it's a complete rewrite from basically and just go. So it's, it's it keeps it keeps the thing flow. And it keeps the things it's kind of like editing I've been I've been an editor for 20 odd years. So like when you edit the scene, you edit a horrible, just get it all just cut it just cut it. It's master shot theater, there's no nuance, get it up there, then you could start slicing and dicing

Jason Shuman 26:42
same, it's the same. And I wish you know a lot of writers beat themselves up and like everyone has their process. Everyone approaches it however they want. This works for me. And the tidbits that Danny's taught me or at least the ones that I retained are that way because I think they spoke to me. But like I remember I showed up one day. And I got a terrible sleep. And I was just kind of groggy. And I was like, Danny, I don't know if I feel it today. And he's like, doesn't matter. Keep writing. And I'm like, I got like two hours of sleep. And he's like, let me tell you something. When you read your screenplay, you got 126 pages of crap, that you're ready to sit down and read through. You won't remember which scene you wrote on that day when you came and you're like, Oh, I feel great today. Remember which scenes we felt great about which seat because it's all just sort of blends in. So the goal every day should just get those two pages done, get those three pages each day, just get that done. Because then when you stack it all together, you probably won't even remember and it probably won't even be as bad. Just like on those days where you think you wrote brilliance. And then you go read it next day. You're like, wasn't that brilliant? I mean, I walked away. I walked away the day before thinking like, Man, what a great day of writing. It's, it's it's the same thing. It's never as good as you thought it was. But it's also never as bad as you thought it was. And so just keep doing it. Just keep writing. Don't let yourself get excuses. And just kind of keep powering forward and like that. That's what makes Danny Danny because it's like yeah.

Alex Ferrari 28:31
I and I think it's I always find it to be better to be prolific than to be perfect. Yeah, there's a lot of directors, a lot of screenwriters out there who just put out stuff. And yeah, they're not all home runs. But a lot of them a couple might be strikeouts, but there's a lot of singles, a lot of doubles, a lot of triples, and there's maybe a one or two homerun situation in there. If I may, if I may be as cliche is to use a baseball metaphor with it, but but I always find that it works. Baseball metaphors work. That's why it's so cliche.

Jason Shuman 29:02
One of my favorite stories from Forrest Gump because I got to work with this guy, Charles Neuwirth, who was the UPN line producer on Forrest Gump. And he said like Zemeckis had been talking about the shots he wanted to get, and it took like six hours to set up, and they could only do it during a certain time of the day. And so they get it all ready, they're rehearsing it, they go to shoot the scene. It's not quite what he wanted, and he just turned to Charles and what they can all be gems. can all be gems, but when you mix it in with Forrest Gump, you have so many great things about it. Does it matter that not everything is and I try to remember that they can all be gems, but if you've got enough gems in there, yeah, it'll be good stuff. it sparkles. It

Alex Ferrari 29:48
will sparkles. Now, as you know, obviously you've been around town for for a while you've been working in town when you started to go out as a screenwriter. How did the town respond to you? As you know, because everyone used because this town is very loves boxes and loves putting people in boxes. So when you came out from, hey, you've been a successful producer. But here's my script I need you to read. How did the town respond to you? I'm curious. Um,

Jason Shuman 30:19
I had to fight that I had to convey my conviction in my heart and soul that that this was like, not just a thing I was trying that this was a full commitment that I was making, that I wasn't looking to just sort of dabble my foot in it. And I meant it. When I packed up and moved to New York. I was like, I'm all in. And so I had to convey that this was not just some hobby, and I was hoping that I was going to succeed by hook or by crook. And so yeah, I had to deal with it was nice that when agents would read it, and they didn't know who I was, because I'm not, I'm not Brian Grazer. I'm not just like, not everybody knew who I was. So I ended up having some, when I started sending my material out to agencies, tried to send it to people I thought maybe didn't know who I was, but who I knew and admired. And so those were some initial meetings that went really well. And I did, I was honest with them that I have a producing career, but I'm hoping I'm hoping that my knowledge and my background of producing will only make me a better, better writer, especially in television, where TV or TV show running and TV writing, a lot of it is producing too, I have hung around enough a TV shows to see that the the show runner, half your job is overseeing the writers and the other half is dealing with the network and the studio and dealing with the politics of and that is in itself producing. So I knew I could combine both in a way that could be advantageous to the writing. And then along the way, I almost wanted to call up every writer I've ever worked with as a producer, and say, I'm so sorry that you have to take notes from me, because now that I've given myself a grad school in screenwriting, and I feel like I understand screenwriting, so much better now than when I did as a producer. I'm like, you had to sit there and listen to my notes. Like, and now I feel like I was just talking out of my ass. Like, how did I not do this sooner, at least sort of dive into screen, right? I feel it makes you a better producer to sort of understand the nuances of not only being a writer, but just on how story works and structure and characters and God just like it's just crazy to me that that the way this town is built where you could get a really good job like I was given right out of college, and in a room with million dollar writers and have Arnold Coppola single, like Jason read the script, meet with me with that million dollar writer give him notes. And they have to listen to me. And they're very cordial and respectful. Because I represent Arnold COPPA Xin. But I'm like thinking back upon that now, not only was I I should call those people up and be like, thank you for not just being like your biggest moron Jason, who sent you into this room.

Alex Ferrari 33:39
And that's isn't that amazing. But that is that is the way this town works. It is just ridiculous that there's a huge producer, a legendary huge producer, who sends in a 20 something and goes, I kind of like I trust your taste, Jason, go read it. And then go talk to this million dollar plus screenwriter and give him notes. Who's been who's written probably 30 or 40 screenplays in his life, probably even more, you've never written one. And you've written you've read maybe five, so maybe 10 I'm being generous. So give him you're giving me notes based on the video store experience you have.

Jason Shuman 34:20
I would do that. I would prepare all night. I'd be like in order to make this character more three dimensional. This is what you should do this to do. And I was prepared on it. But Jesus Lord, okay, all right. I guess my youthful, like, fake it till you make it kind of stuff.

Alex Ferrari 34:41
And that's and that's, you know, that's a really good lesson for screenwriters listening today, because you're gonna deal with young Jason's. And by the way, Jason is one of the nicer ones that I've I've ever met in this business, but you're gonna get, you know, we all deal with people who are put in positions of power that don't have they shouldn't be there. Especially talking to creatives who might know it's, I mean, it's this. It's the oldest, I mean, manque. I mean, manque just came in late. I mean, so it's been happening since the dawn of our industry. Someone just said, you know, someone told Chaplin, you know, when you fall, it's not really ringing true. So can you put the banana peel over to the like, there's telling you, you're doing it wrong, or wants to put in their stuff. But so how did you deal with? How would you? How do you suggest screenwriters deal with notes? Because that is something that every screenwriter no matter what, what level they're at, unless you're Tarantino, or one of these big writer directors who have every does every Yeah,

Jason Shuman 35:46
sure. Yeah. Um, look, I think one of the skills of the good screenwriters, the ones who have a lot of success working within the studio, and the network system, is learning how to address notes and interpret notes without just being a typist, like your job. And I think they expect this of you is not to literally take the notes and just go and do note number one, and just go into the document and change it. They're giving you what's bumping them about what you've written, and they're trying to articulate it, hoping that you will get it. And then that's, that is an art form that I'm constantly trying to work on. And having Eduardo getting to work with Eduardo makes it easier because we're just two of us. So we can talk it through. You know, people like Danny who works solo, Danny just has an interpretive mind. So he's like, Okay, I know what they want. I, I can read between the lines. And so I guess it's just something you should, if you're a writer, if you have a partner, a room that you work in, talk it through, maybe from talking it out loud, you kind of like, oh, here's Okay, I see what they're and then you bring your own creativity to the note and your changes, so that it doesn't mess up the overall tone and theme that you were going for. That is an art form and of itself. And if you can become good at interpreting network and studio notes, you will be a successful writer. I'm still working on it to this day, I do feel like my past as a producer helps. But believe me, there are still plenty of documents I get, or I'm like head scratching like shit. This is bumping them. But the note is confusing me. It's confusing me and I don't understand what exactly they want. And sometimes it takes a few days of it. And I like talking it through like did they mean this? I mean, look, if you have a good relationship with them, you can call them and ask them to explain it. But a lot of times we've done that, and I'm even more confused.

Alex Ferrari 37:58
Exactly. Now how did you get it? Now how did you get involved with Eduardo and and what is it like writing with a partner? You know, because I'm also a soloist I I've written with partners before and sometimes it's been great sometimes it hasn't been good. Eduardo loves working with you because I had him on the show as well obviously. So he speaks nothing but high highly of you sir. Except off off air off off air. off air. He was destroying you, but on air. He really really enjoyed working with you wasn't working with how is it working with it with Waldo? And how did you guys meet?

Jason Shuman 38:36
Well, look, Alex, I'll go deep. I have had no luck in my personal social life finding a like as to my mother's dismay, like, finding some married started family. Yeah. Not for lack of trying. I just can't seem to click with with someone out there. I know. It's harder. Now we're in a pandemic. But even before I can't use that as an excuse, somehow in my business world. I've had two partnerships, me and William sherek. And me and Eduardo. And they both came very naturally. It was not forced. It was not anything. It was like I met William. In college, we totally clicked. And then naturally we got we just started working together. There was no sort of like, like formal like, thing. It just felt so natural that we were into each other's Yang like and then the same thing with Eduardo like I just met him. Coincidentally, it was kind of full circle from co Pilsen because my sort of mentor at Cobo Wilson was this executive named Sanford panitch. And he's sort of the opposite of what I was just describing. He was a young executive who was brilliant, just brilliant, even at a young age, and he found Arnold so many of those movies like like, seven and future And devil's advocate, and eraser, he found those scripts and he developed them. And he was like 2526. At that time, he's amazed. And now he runs. Well, he's president of Sony under Tom Rothman. And he's just that good. He's just that good. And I was having breakfast with them. And he had read some of my stuff that I had been writing and he thought it was good, thank God. And he said, Look, I just signed this deal with this guy, Eduardo Cisneros. He just wrote and produced this massive hit called instructions not included, which Sanford couldn't speak highly enough of. And he said, The guy is like the Judd Apatow of Mexico. He He's created all these hit shows. Now he's created his movie. I just signed an overall deal with them. Why don't you meet them? And if you guys come up with an idea that you can work on together. Great. Do it here at Fox at that time, Sanford was at Fox. And so it was Sanford. He kind of like

Alex Ferrari 41:01
Matchmaker, he's a matchmaker.

Jason Shuman 41:04
And so we we met in a conference room at Fox, and I came with like, literally 10 ideas that I had prepared. I was always the Judd Apatow when I had offices near him. He always said like, when he worked the comedy clubs, and when Sandler would say like, Hey, man, could you write me like three jokes. And he would write like 20 jokes, because he just wanted to show Sandler like that he was up for the challenge that like, he wasn't going to waste this opportunity. So that always kind of like, Okay, I'm gonna come prepared every time and I wrote down 10 ideas. And I pitched them all to him, and Eduardo hated all of them. So then we were like, well, then we just started shooting the shit. And then we just started talking. And then I somehow stumbled on a germ of an idea that he was interested in, but it was not fleshed out. And then we ended up meeting for coffee another day, talking about the idea more, which led to more meetings. And then we eventually took the idea to Sanford, he bought it. And then we were able to write our first script together. And I'm not kidding. It's kind of like, it was so easy. It was so natural, that, like, his strengths were my weaknesses. Vice versa. His work ethic was the mine, in terms of like, you know, being available for each other, we didn't have other stuff going on, like, that frustrated each of us. And so it was such a wonderful process that when that was over, he was like, hey, I've had this other idea. Maybe we could work on it together. And we ended up selling that as a TV show to Fox didn't get made. But we got to write another thing together. And in during that is when he said like, Hey, I have this idea for this movie called half brothers. And then he's like, now we just pitched that one together. So it just happened very naturally. Where would there was never like an official, hey, let's shake on it. We're working.

Alex Ferrari 43:05
We're writing tea.

Jason Shuman 43:07
It just happened naturally. And so I'm just grateful. I'm just grateful to the universe, that in my work life, they brought me to partnerships that have just been magical, where in my personal life, I'm like, still waiting, still dealing with the phone calls from my mother being like,

Alex Ferrari 43:26
Oh, my God, I dealt with that so much that my mom, my mother actually connected me with my wife, she actually matched make me with my wife, believe it or not. And it worked. It works. By the way, it was a swing and a miss of a handful of times before. But it was Oh, man. on that. Yeah. Cuz it was like, every time she would try to hook me up with something I'm like, this is Do you even know who I am? Like, why did you Why would you send her to me? Like, this makes no sense. But yeah, so that's, that's great. And then as far as writing, I mean, cuz you wrote by yourself for a little while before you start writing with a partner. So yeah, when you're writing with a partner, what Eduardo said at least was that you guys just kind of, you'd be you have, you'd have someone to bounce ideas off of, and you can kind of bounce things back and forth.

Jason Shuman 44:14
A lot of people have asked me, What, don't don't you get frustrated because I have my own voice. As a writer, I have all my life experience that I bring to it. Do you get frustrated and I could see how people could ask that because when you're just up by yourself, you may be get frustrated with yourself but you're not arguing over this jokes, funnier, that jokes funnier. But I think that with Eduardo and I, we just haven't had that issue. It's been a total sort of two one plus one equals 10. We feel like we get 10 times more done. We're not hurting each other's voice. Sure. Do we argue about like I think that's funny and he doesn't think it's funny or vice versa. But we just let it go find keep your joke. Um, early on, I Eduardo, getting getting to know him. He had such a mission with his writing. You know, my mission was just to try to make people laugh. I just grew up Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman, Mel Brooks, I just I just wanted to make the world laugh. I didn't have specificity specificity that Eduardo did with what he not only wants to make the world laugh. But he wanted to change the stereotype of, I'll say, Latin x people for him, specifically Mexico. But he really had a goal with his laughter. And that changed my world, to be honest, Alex, because I had just sort of grown up thinking like, oh, laughter is the best medicine. But to meet Eduardo, and have him talk about, yeah, I want to make people laugh. But I also want to create characters that defy the stereotypes. And I'd like to do it by sort of, like putting cheese on the broccoli. Like, maybe we can change hearts and minds by creating positive Latinx stereotypes, like having characters that would normally just be a white doctor, or a lawyer or a successful businessman. But why can't we can Mexican Cuban, South American, and somehow the comedy can just come and somehow People will laugh and see the movie, but then they'll walk away, not realizing that like, Oh, it was a Latino character that wasn't just a garden or a made a Narcos, a rhino. And so, when, when he started to talk to me about that, it was to me, I was like, sign me up, Eduardo, sign me up, because I want to go on that mission with you. So to me, helped me understand where the last many decades have gone wrong in in their portrayal of Latino characters, and let's try to let's try to make a positive impact on the way it brought a whole nother depth to what I was just thinking of just gonna be another funny Jewish guy, to being to having more of a purpose to the writing. In an entertaining way, obviously, first and foremost, we're trying to entertain Sure. And so, with that goal in mind, can we also elevate what we're trying to do?

Alex Ferrari 47:45
That's, uh, if you can combine those two things in your professional life in your creative life, that is a very honorable way to to approach it. It really truly is. I mean, for me, I mean, I'm Cuban. And only two main Cuban influences in pop culture are Ricky Ricardo, and Scarface who happens to be Italian. So he, you know, so, and for years, you know, like, Hey, man, how you doing, man? Like it was constantly that throughout me when I was growing up, you know, because Scarface was the 80s By the way, nothing gets missed a poem. I think Scarface is a tastic film. And I think Chino did a fantastically a performance of what it was, it's a it's a bit over the top, I'm just saying just a bit over the top, and it's just a bit but he's a patina. But it's but it's true. And and I think now with what's going on in the world, and there is a lot more awareness of, of bringing these kind of characters, and I think you guys are at the forefront, and I can't wait to actually see half brothers, but from the trailer. It looks hilarious. Like, I'm like, I told my wife about it. Like, we kind of watch this when this comes out. This is gonna be amazing.

Jason Shuman 48:54
Thank you, I love the movie. It was everything Eduardo and I wanted to do when we set out to write it, to produce it, and bring on the team of Luke and Luis. Like, it's, I'm, I'm so proud to have been able to make a movie like this that is very contemporary, very, we think, but also follows the classic structure of movies that I grew up loving, like planes, trains, and automobiles. I mean, I, I worship these movies, and I've watched them hundreds of times. So to get to kind of live in the genre of some of my all time favorites, but try to create a modern movie with also the intention of like what we were saying to to just change the stereotype a little bit change the perception. So it was it was a fulfilling experience from top to bottom.

Alex Ferrari 49:52
You know, you know what's funny is when I was watching the trailer, and I saw that scene with when he's running towards the car with the goat By the way, everyone You can see the trailer at the at the show notes. So it doesn't sound like we're like talking weird, but definitely watch the trailer. But when he's running towards the goat first image that popped in my head, I don't know why it was planes, trains and automobiles. Like I just like it just it just felt very john Healy to me, which was great. And I was like, oh, now that you said that, it makes all the sense in the world because you can see that, that that kind of tang to it, it has a flavor of of those kind of old midnight run. Especially midnight, I just recently watched midnight run again.

Jason Shuman 50:34
Oh, my God grown and consider anything, anything, even if one little moment in a movie that I'm a part of reminds me of john Hughes, like, we're good. I'll take it cuz that's, I don't I could never make planes, trains if I tried. It's such a brilliant movie. But we just tried to bring the funny in the heart and the warmth and the characters that were that could make it an entertaining movie, and still take you on a trip and take you on a journey. And so we can have another conversation after you watch. I'll come back anytime.

Alex Ferrari 51:10
I can't wait. No, I can't wait. I can't wait to see it. And, okay, just let me lose my train of thought. Um, we were talking about john Hughes. All right, I forgot. We'll go on to the next question. So with with half brothers, in you, obviously now, sitting on both sides of the table as a producer and as a screenwriter. What advice do you have for screenwriters on approaching a project approaching a producer? How What does that screenplay? How does that screenplay have to be? How should they approach it? What's the do's and do nots? Should we just show up at your house? and knock on the door with a screenplay? I mean, I heard that's the way it's done in Hollywood. I've seen movies. How do you? How do you look at it?

Jason Shuman 52:00
choosing a producer? It's it? You know, you got to be careful because there are a lot of producers around around town. And like I don't know. And

Alex Ferrari 52:12
can we use the air quotes with the words producers, because I

Jason Shuman 52:17
Hit a producer.

Alex Ferrari 52:18
But also you could just go down to the FedEx store and or UPS store and get a business card made up and say you're a producer? There's no accreditation.

Jason Shuman 52:27
That's the scary part. Yes, sir, is so important. Because as I've learned, if they give up on your script, it's good as dead, like the producer has to keep that boulder being pushed up the mountain, you're a screenwriter, you know, unless you happen to have a career as producing like I had luckily done. So we sold in this case, we sold the pitch to focus there were no producers attached at the time. But I knew what to do as far as how to get keep the studio as as we kept doing drafts. And we got Luis attached to star and we got Luke interested in directing. That was me just instinctually taking over and saying I've got a script that I'm really proud of. And I think there's a movie here, I'm just gonna keep putting it together. So when it came time to the studio saying like, I think we're gonna make this, then they were just like, Well, why don't you just produce it? Why don't you and Eduardo just produce it since you've kind of been acting as producer anyway. So that was just a lucky situation where I turned to Eduardo. And I was like, wow, that's, that was it? We get to make it ourselves. But I do I do. Really. I don't take for granted good producing. Because even in my writing career, I've I've now been able to work with producers, that unlike they have skills that I don't have as a producer, I think they are they've helped me see things that I'd like to do in my producing game. And people that I just respect immensely. And so if you're a screenwriter, and you've got a script, like you can, you can either take your chance on a young ish producer or a new producer, if they have a lot of excitement for your script. But don't, don't, don't, don't sell your soul away. Like if they dropped the ball, you got to be willing to change it up. Because you can just sit dormant with a producer's kind of given up on it. And then it's just the if you go with a big company, like a big grant, Brian Grazer type company, well, they're great and Brian's amazing, but you're probably going to be dealing with their executives which is okay to just make sure that you get along with them. Make sure that you have a rapport with that executive and you feel like this executives got your back has the same vision of you do of trying to get it where it needs to be? There's no right answer, Alex, because every producer is gonna have a different set of skills, they're gonna have different contacts. Like, I only know the people that I know. Right? So if you bring me your script, I know the agents that I've known for 20 years, I know the talent that I know. And I have a way of doing things that might be totally different than somebody else who's like, been doing it the same amount of time I have and their connections are totally different. So the attachments that they might pitch you the agents they might talk to. So it's sort of an instinctual thing. You got to meet with producers, you got to hope there's enthusiasm, you got to look into their eyes, male or female, and you got to say, I trust them. I got a good feeling. You know, bring another Danny strong story when when when he wrote recount, and HBO was like, Danny, like, Who do you want to team up with on this movie? Because Sydney Pollack, who was the original Director Producer of recount passed away, like months before they were going to go shoot. And so Danny was given carte blanche to like team up with so many different and I find named you some of the director and be like, Lord, but he met with Jay Roach, and Jay Roach at the time. This is before Jay Roach has gone on now to do a bevy of dramatic work. That's amazing. But at the time, he had had the Meet the Parents movies, and the Austin Powers movies. But Danny met with them. And I'm gonna steal his story. He felt much better. But he just said, I met with him. And I was like, this guy's a winner. This guy, it's like, could I go with some of these other people who have more dramatic stuff on their resume that I admire too? Sure. But I sat there with Jay. And there was just something about this meeting, where I was like, Yes, I want to, I want to go down a road with this guy. I want I just this guy's a winner. And everything he touches turns to gold and I'm in and that was just Danny's instincts. That was just Danny's instinct saying like, I you could talk me out of it. But But am I gonna let you because? And I feel like that's what as a writer, you gotta send your stuff out there. You got to be fearless in that and then the meetings you take. If somebody seems shady. If somebody seems a little suspect, don't do it. Don't do it.

Alex Ferrari 57:37
But that doesn't happen. That doesn't happen in Hollywood, Jase. I mean, everyone who is so nice and upfront, and they didn't do anything shady here. Right. That's sarcasm, if anyone did not pick up on the sarcasm, that sarcasm, I'm just both Jason and I have gray hair for a reason.

Jason Shuman 57:58
I was always taught, like, a good deal with a bad person is a bad deal. Yes. And a bad deal with a good person is a great deal. And I don't forget that like if I meet with somebody, and they're offering me less money, but, but I just feel like such a good person. And I asked around about them and people speak lovingly. And then there's this other person who just don't know but but they're offering me more money 10 times out of 10 I'll go with the less deal but with the good person because it will in the long run it will pay off to me.

Alex Ferrari 58:39
That's a great, great advice. And I've just remember what I lost my train of thought the one thing I was gonna say it's so great that Focus Features you know, is producing films like a half brother because in the studio system that's that was very commonplace, but nowadays, yeah, you don't you don't get films of this because that halfway there is not a tentpole. You know, it's not $200 million movie so generally the studio's that's what that's what they're doing. And now specifically with the way the world is like no, but like what Warner Brothers just released the other day was just like, holy cow. This is this is changing the game. I mean, who knows what's gonna happen in the next year? So it's so cool that they actually are putting so many resources in a really, it truly is. It truly is.

Jason Shuman 59:26
That was a testament to Eduardo his work with Oh, honey. Oh, derbez. Um, you know that that Eduardo had worked with him not only on instructions, but Latin how to be a Latin lover had helped him out with overboard. And so those movies, Oh, honey, it was a brand. So those movies performed really well. And focus was willing to take a shot to kind of create their own division or at least their attempt to kind of get into that market. If we're just talking about from a business standpoint. They saw that there is a niche being created by Eduardo and no henio and Ben Odell and their company. And it was just sort of like, and look, we're in a pandemic, so the movies come out. And it's doing fine for pandemic wise we're doing great. But you know, in a real world, the box office would have been more on par with like Latin lover and overboard and instructions, but the world's changed. And so most people will safely watch it on their on their things. But if they happen to be in and around a theater, or drive in, I went to the drive in this weekend to watch it was so fun. And but if you're in Phoenix, or Texas, or Florida, or somewhere where there's a theater and you feel safe, you can experience it how Eduardo and I intended it to be experienced, but eventually it will come out and hopefully still do the same kind of numbers that that those other movies did. Over the lot.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:00
Yeah, and I want to ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests sir. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

Jason Shuman 1:01:10
One, my first and foremost is network.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:14
So good. It's been Yeah, that's, that's been on that list a lot.

Jason Shuman 1:01:18
A lot. I refer to it quite a bit. And it's just brilliant to me in every way, shape and form. I could never use the word so easily that he uses. so brilliant. I really do love a Paddy Chayefsky as a writer but also the movie network. The other ones I sort of flip around from a genre perspective. I love Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire script. Because I think that drama D is a difficult, difficult genre, trying that the critics often crush you. And it's like, when you get it, right, though, when you do Terms of Endearment when you do a movie that has comedy, but also has a ton of drama in it. And it's about someone like Jerry Maguire, like just taking a small step forward in life. And so I love reading that script all the time, because I think how he pulled that off, we created a big movie about a sports agent is quite brilliant. And then, God, the third one that I would say, because I read so many scripts that I often refer to, I, I would this is gonna come out of nowhere, but Oliver Stone, his script for wall street is very influential to me. Because he created a world created a world that I'm very fond of. He created a pace and a character. And that character's goal is to make money and to be like this. This like Gordon Gekko guy who's supposed to be the bad guy, but turned into this iconic, like, good guy. And so when I read Wall Street when I read Wolf of Wall Street, also another great script, similar vein, they create these worlds that are so fun to live in. They're so intoxicating. Yeah, though, they're sort of nefarious worlds. And so I often refer to the wall street screenplay as well. So I know that's kind of all over the place. But I use those those three scripts have inspired me a lot.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:55
Well, you and I are of similar vintages. So Wall Street, in my video store days, I must have seen Wall Street It was a religious experience to watch Wall Street for me. I can read I can recite the greed speech right now off the top of my head. I'm not joking you I could go off the top of my head and read that because I just, it was such a you and I never really understood it. But you actually said something really, very pointedly there that it's intoxicating. That that world at that time was I wanted to be Gordon Gekko so bad when I was a freshman in high school. Like I was just like, um, like, I started reading Wall Street books. I started reading, you know, investing books. I started like, you know, oh, yeah. I mean, I had the poster, the greed poster. There's they said they sold greed posters, with the whole speech. And I had it framed in my room. Oh my god.

Jason Shuman 1:04:50
Wait, it's not just the greed speeds. It's like when he's in the limo and he says, You're either inside or you're outside. And I'm not talking about some schmo making 300,000 living comfortably I'm talking about liquid rich enough to own your own jet, you know as a 15 year old the movie's supposed to be a tragic of a guy who's sold his soul to the devil. Yes pays the price. But But our generation saw it as as like a beacon of light of like how to live our lives.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:28
The funny thing is that the devil is the thing that you love the most about the film and that's what the devil is good at. Yeah, he's good at it at a toxicated bringing you in. And and I actually like the second one, Wall Street. Money doesn't sleep.

Jason Shuman 1:05:42
I don't want to talk about that you don't like my good friend Allan Loeb wrote it and I love him. He's one of the best screenwriters. But it was hard for me to watch because I the first one is so perfect. why he's such a perfect movie, that it was just I don't think there was any version of the sequel that would have made made you happy. It's just like, if somebody made Apocalypse Now, too. I probably go like I can't.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:06
I can't do it. I can't I don't care if it

Jason Shuman 1:06:09
Perfection. How do you top that? Just let it be.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:12
I don't care if Coppola goes back in time and writes it in the in the jungle while he's shooting? The first one. I'm not watching it. I'm not watching

Jason Shuman 1:06:21
Can't do it.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:22
Now. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Jason Shuman 1:06:27
Very simply, I have a couple mantras I live by them. It's like, first off, you got to be all in. Yeah, like playing poker, you got to look at your hand, whoever you are, if you're whatever culture you come from, whatever males like female, binary, whatever you see yourself as whatever you look in the mirror and identify as you've got to look at the hand you've been given. And you got to say, I've got a lot to say, and I'm in it to win it. And you got to put your chips in and say I'm all in. I'm all in. And I'm gonna keep going until I die until I have a heart attack. And because it is so tough, it is so competitive. And you gotta just say, I'm just like, whenever my time is, and I do feel like everyone gets their shot. That you got to just keep writing every day. No excuse. Just tell your stories. I don't care if it's, as Danny would tell me. I don't care if it's making a list of things you love and hate. I don't care if it's just going off book and just in your journal writing extemporaneous scene, you've got to write every darn day, you have to even Sundays, like you got to adjust. Jerry Seinfeld says he has a calendar. And he makes sure he writes at least one joke every day. And then he puts an X in his calendar so that he looks back on the year. And it's like, okay, I wrote 360 a minimum I wrote 365 jokes. So you should be able to look back and say I wrote every single day. And I promise you, if you do that one year, then two years, then three years, stuff will happen. It just Will you unless you're just too scared to show it to anyone then I don't know what to tell you. But like, if you just do it, just just put your chips all in the middle and say whatever this hand is, I've been given in life. I'm all in on it. And I'm gonna I'm gonna keep evolving obviously as a human being and as a writer, but I'm I'm in it to win it as a filmmaker and a storyteller. That would be my

Alex Ferrari 1:08:41
that's awesome advice. Yeah. And again, just perseverance man, perseverance. Just that's it's it's a lot of times I found in this business. It's not about the who's the best or the most talented. It's the one who just keeps grinding it out and keeps going keeps showing up.

Jason Shuman 1:08:55
I don't love Jay Leno. I wasn't the big Jay Leno fan. But man, that guy had a work ethic. He would write he jokes on Saturdays on Sunday is in the morning at night. He was like, I'm not the best looking guy. I'm not the funniest guy, but I'm gonna work harder than everyone else. I'm gonna just if I'm, like, I don't have that natural charisma, like Letterman does, or everyone just loves Letterman. But you know, and my I have a lot of respect for people like that. And so that these are just the people like the Judd Apatow story I said, where he'll wrote 15 jokes. There's a theme to what we've been talking about. And that's just how I see it. I'm just like, I'll put in the work. I'll deal with the rejection. And it's no fun Look, I don't like it. I have plenty of friends who have dealt with lots of hours of phone call me being like, uh, uh, but then I get up the next morning and just keep going. Just keep keep it going.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:55
Keep keep keep the keep the hustle. Keep the hustle. Last question, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Jason Shuman 1:10:06
So easy to answer that enjoy the process? Mm hmm. So results oriented, that you can't, you just cannot be, it can't just be the selling of the script, or just getting the movie made or the TV show made. You gotta try to enjoy the process of writing that you're like, every day, you get to sit there and tell your stories, you know, and some days are good, some days bad, but try your best anything in life. Try to enjoy that you today, the goal is to write three pages. And if you did that successfully, go have yourself a beer or a nice meal or pat yourself on the back. Because that, you know, enjoy the little victories enjoy the process, and then the outcome will be what it's going to be. I don't I have no control a lot over that. And yes, I used to. I used to start having grandiose things of like, oh, maybe I could sell this for a million dollars and get it made with Brad Pitt. And great, great when it happens. I've been lucky enough to have it happen a couple times like that as a producer. But in general things happen in ways you never saw come in. So just try to the process. And and then half brothers is out right now as we as we speak in theaters, and then as a coming up. Do you know when it's coming out? Oh, no. We'll be out on VOD, Amazon, all that stuff, but it will at some point.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:39
And I will I will put all that in the show notes. Jason and I appreciate you coming back on the show man on this show. First time, it was an absolute pleasure talking. I know we can keep talking for at least a couple hours. Just and I'm the first one to sign up for that Danny strong seminar you're going to be creating soon, so I appreciate that

Jason Shuman 1:11:58
Thank you Alex anytime.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:01
I want to thank Jason for coming on the show and sharing his journey with us if you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, including how to watch his new film half brothers. Head over to the show notes at bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/098. And guys, if you have not checked out, indie film, hustle, TV, and all of the amazing screenwriting courses and filmmaking, lessons, workshops, movies, documentaries, things like that, head over to indiefilmhustle.tv and check it out. 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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BPS 097: How to Make People Laugh & Cry with Your Screenwriting with Eduardo Cisneros

Today on the show we have screenwriter, Eduardo Cisneros. He began his screenwriting career in his home country of Mexico. Working on countless television series including Saturday Night Live: Mexico. His career took an upward trajectory when he began working with one of the biggest comedy actor/writer/producer and director in the Latinx world,  Eugenio Derbez.

Eduardo help develop the massively successful crossover smash Instructions Not Included.

Eduardo Cisneros’s latest project hits close to home. Half Brothers, who he co-wrote and produced with Jason Shuman, is based on his experiences as an immigrant from Mexico in America. His father was the basis of the main character’s father in the story.

Renato, a successful Mexican aviation executive, is shocked to discover he has an American half-brother he never knew about, the free-spirited Asher. The two very different half-brothers are forced on a road journey together masterminded by their ailing father, tracing the path their father took as an immigrant from Mexico to the US.

Half brothers is about bonding. It’s about empathy. It’s about the challenge of developing the ability to put yourself into somebody else’s shoes and realizing that you have more in common than things that separate you.” – Eduardo Cisneros

It was an absolute pleasure speaking to Eduardo and discuss how he approaches each story, what it was like work on SNL Mexico, how it’s like writing with a partner, and how he hopes his films change the conversation on how Latinx people are perceived in our culture. He wants to bring his Spanish-speaking audience a greater representation in Hollywood.

Enjoy my conversation with Eduardo Cisneros.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:49
I'd like to welcome the show Eduardo Cisneros. How you doing my friend?

Eduardo Cisneros 3:33
I'm pretty pretty good. How are you doing?

Alex Ferrari 3:35
I'm as good as I can be in this upside down world that we live in today.

Eduardo Cisneros 3:40
Yeah, isn't it wonderful?

Alex Ferrari 3:42
It is it's something it's something it's something like I like I said the mole people haven't risen up and Atlantis hasn't hasn't risen either to take over the world. Yes yet. But that's the only thing missing from 2020 honestly. Alien aliens Meteor. Yeah, what else is there?

Eduardo Cisneros 4:02
Well, they found this big sculpture of like a Buddha and then has had like a dead person inside Did you see that? And I might not leave that leave that alone. This is not the year like please put it back in the ground like bury that stuff like I don't think we can handle any more of that stuff.

Alex Ferrari 4:20
Don't open that today

Eduardo Cisneros 4:22
Just. Like dont

Alex Ferrari 4:25
Just let Indiana Jones just close the door and walk away slowly, slowly.

Eduardo Cisneros 4:31
Brendan Fraser closing

Alex Ferrari 4:36
A Brendan raise your friend Brendan Fraser reference. I appreciate that. Old School mummy.

Eduardo Cisneros 4:44
All sorts of stuff under my sleeves man.

Alex Ferrari 4:48
Well, listen, man. Thanks so much for being on the show. Man. I'm so excited to have a screenwriter but also a Latino screenwriter because we don't get many of those on the show. And as as a lot You know, filmmaker. When I found out about you, I was like, Yes, yes, I'd love to have him on the show. And let's, let's talk screenwriting from, from your perspective, sir. So before we get started, how did you get into this ridiculous business?

Eduardo Cisneros 5:16
Good question. You know, I was born and raised in Mexico. And in Mexico, and I would say in the Spanish language, world, radio is a big thing. So I always wanted to be a filmmaker, but we have less avenues, you know, to get to that goal. So my first opportunity was as a radio DJ. And specifically, because a lot of the radio there is very driven towards like comedy and humor would not so I would write sketches for radio, but that's basically what you would call it. So when I moved to Mexico City, which is the bigger hub of entertainment in Latin America, and the springboard in, I first started going around the radio, radio stations, who produce a lot of content, but it was all comedy. So I started writing the, you know, I took my tapes and my scripts and, and people liked what I did. And they hire me. And I happen to cross paths with one of many other business staff writers, and no henio was already at the top of his career. And he hasn't climbed down since he was it was, I would say, the first peak on the series of peaks. So I was fortunate enough that because of the funny stuff that I've written for radio, then I was then brought on to write TV. I'm summarizing it. It was a little bit of a trek, from very, very baby junior level writer to a full time staff writer for tenure. But that's, that's that's how it happened. And

Alex Ferrari 6:53
yeah, generally, it's not the overnight like, yeah, just one day, I got this. And the next day, I'm a staff writer, I just kind of worked out. Yeah. Now what is it like being a staff writer for at Haneul? And in also in just a staff writer, because your staff writer basically for anything he does or was a specific show? How

Eduardo Cisneros 7:10
does that work? Now, when you're, it's a weird system. And I rarely, I mean, I don't think that I will experience anything in my life like that as a writer. And I also think it's a very different experience for any writers. I don't know how many people in the world would have a situation like this, but because he is, but even more so at the time, he was a big commodity for fertility. So which is the biggest network and the only game in town for decades. And he was their biggest star. So they let him hire two or three writers. Full time it was job was only to write for anything that he did. So he was always surrounded by a team of two or three writers, which meant if he had a TV show that you would write for a TV show, if he was dubbing a movie, then you would add some jokes. If he was going to do some kind of public experience appearance even as a speech, then you would have to help him write the speech like you were, you'd be at his best 24 seven for a full year round. Didn't matter if he was shooting a show or not so but the reason why I think it's also unique it was because he, he basically was an artist who shaped pop culture in Mexico. So it was a very bizarre experience with you a write a sketch, and sometimes it was like a one off thing where his show was on hiatus, but he wanted to make fun of something that happened. So we would write a sketch, shoot it and put it in some morning show or something. And it would be water cooler conversation. This was pre Twitter kids. This was pre social media days. So you would go out on the street, you would go to the supermarket, you would go to the gym, and everybody was talking about this thing. It was like Game of Thrones,

Alex Ferrari 9:11
or something or Seinfeld back in the day.

Eduardo Cisneros 9:14
I always tell people that it was it was the most important thing was Seinfeld because ohanian was not only very commercially successful, but he was also admired because his brand of humor was very different and very observational and smart compared to other comedians in Mexico. So that was very bizarre. And we had another taste of it when instructions that included came out and we get to that in a minute but I was in Mexico City working on another project of henio when construction and include come out of Mexico, and I decided to live a more New York style way of life. I ditch my car and I would take public transit to the office every day and from my like from my door like my house. public transit during the gym to go to the office, everybody was talking about me. So it is it's a very weird and also very gratifying as a writer that you create something. And you put something on a sketch show where he shows up at an award ceremony and he does a funny thing. And everybody's talking about it the next day. It's also a big responsibility, but it was it was a great experience.

Alex Ferrari 10:23
So for people who don't know, Daniel is he's, he's an annual. He. He's like, like you said, a cultural icon in Mexico. And then he has crossed over he's done movies, like construction is not included like overboard. Who was with what's her name?

Eduardo Cisneros 10:41
I know Ferris.

Alex Ferrari 10:42
Thank you Anna Faris Yes. Which is, which was a remake of an old Kurt Russell Goldie Hawn film back in the 80s. And he's actually done a he's been in a bunch of American movies. So he has definitely crossed over. So the equivalent so for everyone listen to it's the equivalent of you getting a staff position with Seinfeld in the height of his powers in the 90s. Basically, where he is anything you wrote, people saw, and you were talking about, and you were just there in that, that hurricane in the center of the storm.

Eduardo Cisneros 11:15
And it was it was a weird experience. Because the truth is, I was I was barely out of college. I was very young as in my early 20s. I did go I mean, I did get the what I call a media degree in Mexico for my bachelor's degree. So I, I studied everything. I then I took a specific production workshop for like NYU, I went to New York Film Academy in New York, I shot I shot a bunch of short films. So I was always geared toward filmmaking and writing, but, but to have a job like that within a year or two, graduating college is insane. And it's why only so much that I thought, Oh, this is what life is gonna be like, this is the life of a writer. It's gonna be amazing. This is the first two or three years of my career. Wait until you see. But it didn't work out though. It didn't pan out.

Alex Ferrari 12:12
Yeah, generally, when when when I had a small amount of success when I came into the business, and I was making crazy money as an editor. And I'm like, Oh, this is just the way it is. Right? You just you just roll hard like this until one day, the gravy train stops.

Eduardo Cisneros 12:30
Yeah, and you have no control. You're, you're waiting there for the phone to ring and it's not ringing. And you're like, Oh, I guess I'll find a way to pay the bills. So it's Yeah, it's a very eye opening.

Alex Ferrari 12:45
humbling. humbling. It's a humble,

Eduardo Cisneros 12:46
It's very humbling, very humbling

Alex Ferrari 12:49
This business. This is what this business will definitely bring you to your knees. Every and I don't care who you are everybody that it happens to every mega star in the world, every success story, they all get humbled to their knees at one point or another in their career. Right? You know, it's not only the

Eduardo Cisneros 13:06
line, never too big. You're never too big to fall in your house. You're never too big to to eat humble pie. So, and by the way, the first person who told me that was when you know, can you tell me he wanted to warn me. He was saying he would always say there's always gonna be someone around the corner. Who's funnier than you? Who is more charismatic than you? So don't coast don't, you know, don't don't take these things for granted. Like, always make sure that you're always putting out the best version of the work in and I might Yeah, yeah. You know, he's like, You're like a kid. And you're like, yes, that you know, like, but he it worked for him. So like, Oh, I guess it should start paying attention. to it. This successful man is saying

Alex Ferrari 13:55
to be yes. Oh, yeah. I know.

Eduardo Cisneros 14:00
I learned my lesson.

Alex Ferrari 14:02
So uh, so you you were you were Tell me how you were involved with instructions not included, which was, I think, his first big hit here in the States. And I you know, was released by I think Lionsgate at the time. So it was a it was a big release. It's a big release for the film. So how did you get involved with it?

Eduardo Cisneros 14:21
Well, I was it was we started writing the movie at that point precisely in the early aughts, where we were writing this show and we were writing about I was writing a bunch of stuff for you. But it within that team of two or three writers, I just happened to be the person who had studied more of me when regards to screenwriter who is more interested in film, so when he said, You know, he called us to his office and he said, You know, I'm the most successful comedian on TV, but at the time, there was no real commercial business in Mexico was all art house a mortise barrows eat mama tambien. We've made they made like four or five movies a year. And he said, like, all those directors Don't take me seriously. So I'm going to have to come up with my own script of the movie. And he talked about his idea. And I was one of the one of the only people who was like, Yeah, I really would like to do that. Anyway, it was it was, at the time, it was kind of like a vanity project, he might as well have said, I want to record an album. Like, it was one of those things where you're like, Alright, sounds like, I'm sure. And then we talked about so him and I got a little more time to talk about the movies we liked. And at the time, we're very, we're very inspired by all this. movies that came from Italy, right? Oh, in cinema part of it. So Life is beautiful. And pristine, like all these movies that were very unabashedly emotional and cheesy and corny, but they were also had like a, they have paces and depth. And they also have a streak of comedy. And that kind of jive very well with the Latino sensibility. Um, so he wanted to do that he wanted to show that he could do, he uses comedic chops, but also make people cry. So we started watching those movies. And then we he partnered up with console as compared to produce comedy sparrows. And he brought on like a more seasoned screenwriter to kind of, so we can break the story together. And then eventually, after a couple of drafts where there was a bit of a story, then ohanian, I and another of his writers cope with MP, we worked on the script for another four years after that, again, because of him, he is a perfectionist, and he will do draft after draft and we would get every scene to his liking. And even then, after five, six years, if you could believe this, still, we can find people to Who would think that Daniel was a movie star. And I laughed because there's really nobody bigger than him at the moment in the Spanish language world. But at the time, it was more like now who wants to put money in the hands of the movie. But the thing is, like, I would spend so much time with him, that I would see firsthand how people responded to him and how the effects I was like, I think that I think there's a little bit of snobbery going on back then. So, but long story short, we got to make the movie and it came out and was a great experience. At the time, I had already moved to LA, I had learned my lesson I had, I just think that I decided to cross over before the movie came out. So by the time it came out, I already had an agent and also was in a position to kind of like capitalize the success of the movie. But, you know, I'm thankful that it came out when it did and it did the way it did.

Alex Ferrari 18:14
Yeah, it was it was a huge success, especially in the in the Spanish speaking world here in the States, but it also found a bigger audience. It's not just that Latinos who went out to see it. I mean, a lot of other cultures have seen it because it's just such a beautiful film. It really really is a beautiful film. And I my wife, and I just loved it when we saw it. Now you you also worked with SNL, but Mexico's SNL, right? I I've never spoken to anyone who's worked with any an SNL outside of here in the state. So what's it like? Like, is it just another sketch comedy show? But with a obviously with a Mexican twist to it? How is that how's the whole thing work?

Eduardo Cisneros 18:55
Well, so at the time, I was telling you that I was in Mexico City at the time, the reason why I was there, because I was already in LA, but Ohio called me and said, we're doing this now. And I was alright, I'll be there. So I, you know, he relocated me to Mexico City to work on this project, and he got the rights you have the rights to do the SNL franchise which I didn't know existed by the way. I didn't know that SNL had turned into this thing where they had an SNL and in Korea, Brazil, and one in Spain, which Funny enough, it's on Thursday night. I hate each one. That's amazing. Yeah. But it's so they because they've done this a few times. Now Broadway video has the whole way. This whole system to kind of train you to do this and they explain the process to you. And then you sit down and watch this video, of like behind the scenes of step by step how to put the show together. And then when we turned around and tried to put it together, they sent horatia stance to work with us along the way. They also sent somebody from Second City to make sure that we were kind of building upon all these tenets of improv comedy. They're the core of SNL. And it also happened that. So when I moved to the US, and I try to cross over, I was hoping for things to go as, as quickly and as well as they did when I moved to Mexico City. That was not the case. And so I, I said, You know what, I have to prepare as much as possible. And I went to NYU and took a bunch of screenwriting classes. I took every class that I could, there was a thing called media Bistro. I don't know if it still exists, but I would like went through, like, simulations of writers room that they did with like real writers from like the Simpsons and whatnot. But one of the most important things that that I did was take improv. And I went, I joined UCB. I completed the program. I joined a couple teams. So I was one of those annoying people that would go Hey, you're gonna come watch my improv show. I was I was at La guy.

Alex Ferrari 21:21
At least it wasn't a one man show. I mean, this is an improv show. Because there's, there's the improv show. And then there's like, Hey, can you come see my show? Are you right? And I have, and I have been to an LA one man show or one woman show. And it is. It's, it's, it's kind of like a rite of passage of Rites here in

Eduardo Cisneros 21:42
LA. Yeah, I think I would still, I think if I have to choose, I would rather do the band because at least you're like words. It's music. They can it can always play up Converse. But yeah, there was one man show. It's like the one man on stage and other just another one men in the audience. And that just show for one man.

Alex Ferrari 22:05
Exactly.

Eduardo Cisneros 22:07
Not no woman show. So so because I had that training, I was also able to transmit some of that too, because there was very little improv comedy. In Latin America. And in Mexico, it's growing more. But at the time, this was a few years ago, there were very few improv companies there. So I had improv training. And I used that so that was a great experience. And, and a lot of it was being truthful to to the brand, which is being topical, which is being political. You know, knowing how to cap, you know, capitalize on whatever is happening at the moment. So it was a great experience.

Alex Ferrari 22:53
Yes, it sounds awesome. Now, you've been you've written a lot of different, you know, comic comedy and characters, what is it, especially in the future world? Or even in scripted television? What is how do you create a memorable leading character for comedy?

Eduardo Cisneros 23:14
I think one of the things that was that heard that was more helpful, was, more often than not a script problem is a character problem, right? And I realized that was a very helpful thing to learn in general, but specifically for comedy, because when you have a character in comedy that has a strong point of view, and that you know, what they think about the world, and you know, what they do in the moment of crisis, then it's, it becomes easier, all of a sudden, to, to, to write and then I used to, you know, because when, when I was in Mexico, after I've been part of my, what I call it, the, was kind of like my Karate Kid training, which I was kind of training without really knowing that I was training but I was working as a consultant for Sony television in America. And part of my job was to do something like you see the ad Everybody Loves Raymond documentary with Phil Ruffin. Oh, yeah. Russia.

Alex Ferrari 24:25
Yeah. So great. So great.

Eduardo Cisneros 24:26
So I was working exactly with that with that company, doing exactly that. But for Latin America, it would take the nanny or what um, you know, what have you right? So a lot of I went through a lot of character Bible series Bibles, and I was exposed in a short amount of time, to a lot of, of the engines of very different shows. And in the process, I had to train writers and some of the exercises that I would give them, one of them was you Ask a question. And then write the answer according to each one of the characters from the Simpsons, right? So the characters on The Simpsons are so well defined that you know what the answer is gonna be, like, you know, what Homer is gonna be, you know, when this is gonna say, you know, what Bart is gonna say. So that's a great example of what do you want to do in comedy, you want to make sure that every one of your characters has such a specific point of view, that the audience knows what that point of view is. But also, they will be surprised, and kind of looking forward to see how they're going to express their point. So it's more about what how, Karen on willing Grace is expressing what they have to say how its array, like how each person on TV, you know, what they think you you're just waiting to see how they're going to express that point of view that you know. So as a writer, I think creating a TV show, or creating a feature comedy, where the character has strong point of view is essential. You really need to know that before you start doing any more writing. And I would say in TV is even more important because characters are even more important than story on TV, like people will forgive a bad story. But if it's a character they love, they will watch them do anything. They will watch them make coffee, if it's an interesting character. So from a community point of view, I think that's that's, that's very helpful.

Alex Ferrari 26:40
Did you ever watch Breaking Bad?

Eduardo Cisneros 26:43
I watched the pilot.

Alex Ferrari 26:44
You watch the pilot, okay.

Eduardo Cisneros 26:46
Yes, sorry.

Alex Ferrari 26:49
There is no reason why we can't we have to end the interview Now, obviously, no. Um, so there was an episode in that series, a very famous episode where they basically sat around and followed a fly the entire episode. And they like talked a bunch and they just and it was, it was honestly the worst. It's like a legendarily worst episode of the entire series other than bad and maybe a couple of other episodes. The it's almost a flawless series. But the reason why you stick with something like that is because you love the characters. Because if that was a new show, you're like, Oh, hell, no, I'm out of here. But you die. You know? Yeah. But I never thought of it that way that with comedy specifically, you know, you go through all of television, especially comedy and television, not as much in because it features the character can change. They have a point of view, like Axel Foley has a point of view. But he changes, you know, he

Eduardo Cisneros 27:43
you want them to change. It's a transformation machine. Right? Right. So movie, that's the distinction by television

Alex Ferrari 27:50
character. But Seinfeld is Seinfeld and Kramer is Kramer and, you know, Monica from friends is and they're they don't change, they might change a little bit. But overall, that point of view of who that character is never leave. So if you are writing for television, especially comedy, you definitely have to hold on to that point of view. Yeah, when is it? Not with comedy to? You know, I don't know if it's as much I'd love to hear your thoughts about it. The villain or the antagonist. You know, a lot of times comedy, the antagonist is not a Darth Vader style figure. It could be the situation, it could be, you know, odds or things like that. But, um, like, airplane, you know, which, all I have to say is the word airplane, and everyone just laughs because if you see that it's just such a brilliant film. But there is no villain there is the planes gonna crash that is the antagonists the plane almost as becomes the antagonist. So when you're writing comedy, either for television or for, or features, what's the key to a good antagonist, whether that be a situation or actual character?

Eduardo Cisneros 29:00
Well, there's two things, I think the key to any antagonist in any particular format is you just have to be able to see the story from their point of view, because everybody's the hero of their own story, right? So you have to understand why this person nobody does thinks to be evil, right? unless you really write a nutshell or writing that cartoon. If tonally, that's what it is. All right. But for the most part for a TV show, you would probably want something that is more grounded, unlike what is what is the why is this character doing what they do? What what why do they see themselves as the hero of the story? But even going further than that, I think that in comedy, The, the main antagonist is always that the main character, they usually in comedy, The reason why we laugh Because we see that this person is undermined by their own character flaws, right? So if you think about the comedic version of to your point like the the, you know, the airplane is not the airplanes fault that all these people are idiots, right? So it's the same thing that, that if you're in a car with four comedic characters with strong point of view and they get a flat tire, you know that because they're incompetent or because they have such character flaws, that this thing is just going to snowball into anybody walking three hours. Like if they didn't, if they didn't have these character flaws that were undermining them at every step. They would, it would be jack Bauer, right? It'd be like 24 B, people who are like fiction. I think usually comedy is a way for us to highlight how in life, we are the first person to step on toes, right? So yeah, so that I mean, it's the Road Runner story, like he's case, in the end is like, yes, the Road Runners can be smart, but this guy's like, so stubborn and in such an idiot. And just we laugh at that.

Alex Ferrari 31:17
Right, exactly. And I always thought I always thought the road winner was the villain personally, and that fill in those shorts, because I feel for Wiley so badly. Actually, the other day on Facebook actually saw a meme where there was a coyote who actually had a road runner and there's mouthy, like, Oh, my God, he finally did it, it was just finally did it. But that's really it. That's interesting, because I never really kind of thought about the point of view. I mean, the flaws, you know, if you look at a movie, like hangover, which is a classic now, you know, each of them have a very distinct point of view, each of them have a belief system. And what's exactly Zach Galifianakis his belief system is just brilliant. But the combination of those those points of views is when you get thrown into and those point of views, they kind of change a bit, but they, they, they stay, they are who they are, at the end, they may definitely have changed a bit. But those point of views have stayed pretty solid. But that point, but those point of views is like you said that the flat, the flat tire, like, okay, that's where the comedy comes in. I'm trying, I'm trying to dissect the comedy a bit more, and I just want to kind of dig into your brain a little bit. But you're, you're you're bringing it up in my head now that it? It is, it's just coming clear to me, I hope the audience is getting clear as well. Are they picking up a couple of nuggets along the way about what makes what's funny, because, you know, a dude stepping on a banana peel and falling? Well, that's funny. But when you but when you actually get that point of view of who that guy is, and a backstory, then it becomes even funnier. And then that's, you know,

Eduardo Cisneros 33:02
when it comes to movies, we think about the best comedies out there, what I consider classics, and if you are of those people who believe, like I am that, you know, after the midpoint in the second act, and I'm glad I can take talking to specific terms for all the nerds out there. But like after your midpoint is specific, the second act, you want to, obviously raise your stakes, right? And if you are writing a superhero movie, that's what they call the bad guys close and like this is more like an external villain coming in. And, you know, coming closer to where you are in a comedy, it's more about like, how can I put this schmuck in or how can you bring this all the all the look character flaws in this character that they're gonna just, you have to face them with those shortcomings to the point that you're going to push them to that turn. So one of the best examples out there is Groundhog Day, right? Which I think is one of the best screenplays when it comes to comedy. And he is really leaning into almost like the worst of him in, in the second act is really coming out and it just gets to a point that but what happens like pushes him so hard that he can't over. It's not until he is able to see those shortcomings that he's a jerk and selfish and uses everybody to his to his own agenda. And that is able to change as a character but before that he's blind and he's going he's repeating the same behavior literally the definition of insanity, right like repeating the same behavior and and you know, he wants to kill himself he can. So that's that to me, like look at every comedy with a with has a strong comedic point of view and you will find that that's the part where you're really challenging your main character because that that With the comedy, the first half, we're going to have all the laughs But then the second half is going to turn a little more challenging because this person is going to make everything very difficult for themselves. Yeah, what I love and then that's, that's only when they will change. Right? Yeah, I

Alex Ferrari 35:16
mean, what I love about Groundhog's Day it is it is, by the way, top five comedy scripts ever written. I mean, it's and performing at that movie is an absolute masterpiece. But put yourself in that scenario, which I know everybody in the world who ever watches that movie puts themselves in that scenario, like what would I do if I had to do everything again today? And a lot of us would probably just do that, like we would go down those kind of those places, especially, I mean, especially the younger you are, absolutely. But you just got to he gets to a point where he's like, I've, I've eaten everything I can eat. I've enjoyed every spoil I can enjoy. I've I've slept with every woman that's in this town that I want to sleep with. I've stolen all the money, I've had all the experiences. And it's not fulfilling me until he finally gets to a wall where he hacks to actually just gives up and it goes, I got it. I gotta change. I got to do something else. Because this thing is not letting me get off the hook. I can't kill myself. I can't go anywhere. That's the brilliance of that script. And that story, that character until at the end, he does finally he's like maybe I should do something to better myself. So I learned how to play piano I you know, I learned how to I sculpt that starts in this dish helping people on the way it is such a wonderful, wonderful, I'm sorry, I'm geeking out about Groundhog's Day with you. I'm sorry.

Eduardo Cisneros 36:31
About Groundhog Day, groundhog day all day. But as I think I don't know if it applies to every genre, because I've had the opportunity now to do but I think when it comes to just straight comedy pure comedy. You I like the idea in Mexico, we have the same no Kaito Kaito Kaito salir de la tonetta means like, I don't want any more cheese, I just want to get out of this mouse trap. Right? So to me, that's the moment where the characters like I don't want to chase anymore. Just get me out of the mousetrap. And I think Groundhog's Day is an example. And when you watch everybody goes in watch to watch half brothers, you will see you know you in even the trailer, you get an idea this, this character that we set out of the place is very judgmental. He thinks he's like a higher level than everybody else. And we found a very external manifestation of that he's an aviation engineer, right? He's literally flying above everybody else. So when you without spoiling much, but I think in that after the midpoint, you'll find him really trapped in this place where he just, he doesn't want anything else. But to get out of the mousetrap. And his biggest enemy is not even going to be this half brother is just going to be its own shortcomings as a character. Right. So I'm hoping that you get to watch it soon. And then we'll then I'm really happy to geek out and yeah, the mechanics of the script.

Alex Ferrari 38:02
So so so that's a wonderful segue, sir into your new film. It was very subtle. No, no accident. But no half brothers is your new film. Which can you tell everybody a little bit about what the movie is about? I saw the trailer of it. It looks it looks fantastic. I am dying to see it. I really am. It's definitely a Friday night, Saturday night, you know, movie night with your with your spouse kind of film, at least for us. But it's funny, it looks great. So tell a little bit of everybody about what it is.

Eduardo Cisneros 38:33
Half brothers, I'm very proud of this movie. I'm very happy with the work that everybody did in the movie. Obviously, not only myself, but like I think we got a really, as a team. And this movie is was a chapter right? Because Robbie and I feel like the road movie is often seen as low hanging fruit, right? Like, oh, it's good to be on a car, get them from A to B. How hard can that be? Right? And it's it's precisely the simplicity of it. That makes it super challenging. So I approached this the way I start approaching everything. Since ohanaeze words were resonating in my head I just prepared along with my writing partner we just prepared even before we wrote the first scene to be as familiar with this genre as possible. And we watched every version as from the most biggest commercial comedy to the smallest, more esoteric, indie porn like we watch everything to see what worked, what didn't work. So that went behind the brand. I think it was worth it. The other circumstance that was very special about this movie was that in a world where, you know, we know that the studio's are more more inclined to buying IP and superhero movies and this and that this was an original pitch, we presented it to Focus Features who and who don't get into producing that movie that easily, right. They're very, very picky about what they produce in house. It's normally either co co production or just an acquisition. So we were very lucky that they believed believed in the pitch. They bought the pitch and they developed it with with us. And that was also extremely helpful. Because these are people who have excellent taste in, in movies, who very experienced and who were again, because I was kind of coming off the Actually, I literally started fleshing out this idea. Right after around the time instructions included came out. So it was in this wave again, of thinking about all those 90s movies from Miramax that inspired me. And I was like, well, you don't really see those movies anymore. And part of it is because you know the people.

Alex Ferrari 41:15
Yeah, exactly.

Eduardo Cisneros 41:17
But leaving that aside, I think that, you know, there was there was something not cynical at all about those movies. And I think that the pendulum right now still in a very darker cynic cynical side of the spectrum. But I think because of the times we're living in, I'm like, I think it's time for a movie that wears its feelings on its sleeve. So well, long story short, we developed a script. And we were aiming for a similar thing, if you watch destructions, they're difficult tonal shifts that might look seamless, because we work very hard, but they're very tough to everybody to people who love and enjoy the movie. And luckily, it's been the majority of people who watched it. Even in script form. They said, I just loved that. And one minute, I'm laughing my ass off. And then the next one or two minutes later, I'm crying with this character genuinely going from and I'm like, well, that's life, right? Isn't that where we live? Like, we started out storytelling with tragedy and comedy. And I think it's become more and more more and more complex. I think we start need to start making mixing the sweet with a savory, you know, we need to start mixing one thing with the other and see what comes out of it. So this is all to say that that was a way to try and do that. And apparently, we did something good, because people are responding very positively to to the movie.

Alex Ferrari 42:46
And how was it working with your, your writing partner, Jason because Jason was on my show indie film hustle with his film, his Sundance Film, back in two, three years ago, now, Catcher in the Rye. And I had the pleasure of talking to him. And he was when I was speaking to him, he was starting to take writing seriously. He's been a producer for a long time. And he wanted to start writing. He's like, you know what I'm going to start writing. And this is what I'm going to do. So how did you guys get together? And then what is the process? Because I've only written? I've written with partners before, but I generally they didn't work out. Because I have I have since I've realized that I write well by myself. I can I can recall it. I could collaborate, but like the actual writing part process. How did that work out with you?

Eduardo Cisneros 43:37
Well, I again, this happened right around the time that instructions not included, came out and luckily sanfur panitch, who ran Fox international at the time, the International production division of Fox, he I said luckily he he knew what my role had been shepherding instruction on included creatively. Even before the movie came out, he was familiar with the process. And so when the movie came out, it was a hit. He offered me a to picture deal. So I I wrote my first movie for for them. And then when it came time to write my second movie, out of my two picture deal. He said you have to meet this guy pieces. Shuman, he's a producer. He wants to be a writer, etc. So I think you guys have a similar sensibility. And I was like, all right. Why not? So we, I you know, when you're in Hollywood, you have like, 100 meetings like this. Yeah. So I'm like, Okay, I guess one of those general meetings where you're like sitting there, awkwardly, it's almost like one of those,

Alex Ferrari 44:52
Like blind date. It's a blind date is essentially

Eduardo Cisneros 44:56
a blind date. But to me, it's almost like a play date where you're like, Your mom and this other woman are really good friends with you. Now you have to play with this kid. You might not even like them, you're stuck here with the sucker. Where do you go? Right? So, but in this case, it just, we started talking and he came, he came very well prepared, he came with like 10 log lines that he had, it was going one after the other in a minute now. And then, at the end, he's just started telling me this story that happened to him once and I'm like, oh, that that could be, that's a good, you know, jumping off point for a story, and we started fleshing it out. And we sold it and we're rooting for Fox, and that script has changed hands, and now it's now a searchlight. But I don't know what's going to happen to that story with it. But, you know, regardless of what happens to that script, we found that we just had a, you know, good chemistry, writing. And it's also so great, after years of being on my own, with the laptop, and inside my head, to have somebody to expedite the process where you're like, going back and forth, and ping pong, you know, mentally, and then something great comes out, I've been paired up with writers before, especially, you know, working for Hani or this and that you're always like, Alright, you two have to work on this, and I need to do your best, but you're like, I'm not enjoying this at all. Like, I have two ideas that very clear my head. Now, how would you explain this to this person, I don't understand what they're saying. I'm definitely laughing at their jokes. So this was just all I don't know. And he's a really nice person. And I also think that I, again, I keep mentioning handy, because he's such a formative person in my life, and as an artist, and professionally, but he's such a nice person to everybody. And he's the biggest star out there. And I might give, he can be the biggest game in town and the biggest person that market and be remember your name, and say hi to you, and each person in the room and treat them with dignity. Like I want to be that person to you. No, absolutely. So I think Jason shares that value. So we're like, I want to work with them. I want to work with somebody who's who shares those values as well, not only creatively on the page, but also how to behave as a human being. That's important.

Alex Ferrari 47:31
So this is essentially a buddy a buddy comedy, essentially correct? Yes. So what what is what makes a good buddy comedy?

Eduardo Cisneros 47:43
Good, buddy, buddy, come buddy, comedy. And comedy means it's, anyone makes the comedy work, it's, again, it goes back to two POV goes back to point of view. What I find useful when come when it comes to writing any story, but also comedy is just to know what you're talking about right to know what your movie is about? And to know what is the subject matter. And for a comedy, what do you want is to people who have different ways to approach this same subject matter whether is fame, or love or sex, what do you want opposing points of view, but at the same time, they have to have complimentary abilities. So they kind of need each other. And so, again, you have to decide what your your tone is, but there is Philomena, one of the movies that I watched and was very influential also right and half brothers. Steve Coogan is, I think a comedic genius. I love the old trip series. It's a road movie series on it on its own. And but what makes the movie even more than whatever their mystery they're trying to unveil as Judi Dench and her point of view and she's this very, quote unquote, simple woman who's very earnest, and she's has all this faith, and she's superstitious and this and this super skeptical, cynical, snarky British guy who Steve Coogan into the interaction of the two of them, whatever they do, they can follow them on the fly, right? The sparks that are flying from the conflicting points of view. I think that and I think that's what makes the comedy work.

Alex Ferrari 49:54
So it's something like so something like 48 hours, you know, you have very two different point of views with Eddie Murphy. acknowledge these characters and Lethal Weapon and, and and obviously half brothers as well. They're very and you can you actually like the main character when you see him? You can tell he's uptight. He's an uptight and uptight dude. And then you just put the complete mirror image of them the other dudes Like what? It's like very, very, it's so you just want to see the uptight dude get poked constantly. And it's even funnier. And the other guy, I think it's funnier to when the other guy doesn't even realize he's poking them. And look, I'm just doing, I'm just doing me, man, I didn't mean to. Yeah. What do you mean is, it's wrong to run with a goat? Yeah, just having the goat. Having the goat that was beautiful. By the way. I love that like, having a goat as part of like, walking around with a goat is amazing. Great image.

Eduardo Cisneros 50:56
Again, I think, you know, you're giving me a good, good opportunity to talk as an example of what is your subject matter? Right? We really we were really trying to keep always, in, always inner sight that this wasn't a movie about empathy, and about the ability to put yourself in somebody else's shoes. Which Renato, the main character completely lacks, right? He's very uptight. He thinks he's the smartest person in the room all the time. He thinks he's very hard working self made. And obviously, what life is going to give him is the chance to meet his half brother who is the completely opposite, or what he thinks is, is the completely opposite, right? Because Renato was born in Mexico, his father left never came back him and his mom had to fend for themselves. And he was he teased himself because he himself like a self made man, and everything that he has, like, because he busted his ass. And so he has no patience for excuses. He has no patience, we will not drive. And then lo and behold, he has what he perceives as greeneville brother, you know, this millennial kid was like, wants to be an influencer and you know, make money really quick. And he's awesome person with a lot of empathy. He's a little bleeding heart person who like loves animals and the planet and culturally sensitive like us things. So it's the right kind of person that will test his patience, and he would not be anywhere near prison like that, if it were not for the circumstances of the movie. So that was, that was a lot of fun to write.

Alex Ferrari 52:42
And when when is the movie coming up?

Eduardo Cisneros 52:45
December 4, in theaters, in whatever is safe to go to the movie theaters. And I'm, I mean, there's also drive in theaters, etc. I again, this is a movie came out of watching all those movies that we talked about all the films from the 90s. And a lot of it is a collective experience, right? Like a movie that's a little democratic, that we can all enjoy together and share the laugh. And the laughter, the the emotion, the tears. So I'm hoping that people get to do that whenever it's prudent to do so. Right? And, and that they find a way to enjoy it in a collective experience,

Alex Ferrari 53:32
and I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

Eduardo Cisneros 53:43
Um,

Alex Ferrari 53:45
I mean, won't be on your gravestone. So just off the top of your head.

Eduardo Cisneros 53:51
There's a few that I love. I love 28 days. Yeah. Sandra Bullock. The movie sent me She didn't write it. This is Santa grant. I think it's the writing. If I'm not mistaken, that's a great, dynamic character that I feel in this script form. They do a great job of earning every step of her turn, without hitting you in the head with anything. By using all these tools from a and recovery, it's a great it's a very smart way to show you how this character is evolving in a way that they need to evolve. Well, it turns out Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is another one.

Alex Ferrari 54:40
I mean, Charlie Kaufman is a general statement.

Eduardo Cisneros 54:44
I feel like should I say that?

Alex Ferrari 54:47
And Groundhog's Day, obviously, we spoke about Groundhog's Day.

Eduardo Cisneros 54:50
Yeah, I'm deliberately trying to not mention movies. So I can get a little bit more room but mean Casa Blanca, probably.

Alex Ferrari 55:06
And then the comedy. I always tell people like if you want, if you want good comedy to Blazing Saddles, you can't go wrong with Blazing Saddles.

Eduardo Cisneros 55:15
Yes.

Alex Ferrari 55:17
I have almost anything Mel Brooks Spaceballs, even even Robin Hood Men in Tights. Stuff that

Eduardo Cisneros 55:25
Well, I think, you know, I think the South Park movie has a

Alex Ferrari 55:29
What an amazing that what anything they do is amazing.

Eduardo Cisneros 55:33
And they they're amazing, amazing writers. And here's the other thing with comedy. It's, it's, it's so personal to that and we live in a world is becoming more and more personal because you can cater so specifically the comedy that you consume to your taste. And that because the content content exists, right before you like, well, there's one studio movie in the store. We have

Alex Ferrari 56:00
five nominees. That's it.

Eduardo Cisneros 56:02
There's five comedies this year. Yeah, exactly. You're bored TV networks, and that's whatever. Now there's like all these other avenues and all these other platforms. And you can if you're like a queer, brown, Latino, bilingual, there's something for you.

Alex Ferrari 56:18
So there's a platform for you, sir. 799 a month?

Eduardo Cisneros 56:23
Exactly. With a seven day free trial. So that's why studio comedies are suffering a bit because now comedy has become so such an individual experience. Right? But But again, and again, like if you can, at some point hit gold when you find the right comedy, and people do like being a room with other people. And when, when it's normal to do so again, but you haven't experienced again, I'd say comedy and horror, that when you do get a good one, and you're in a room with other people in screaming and or laughing out loud. That's such a great catharsis, that when you find it, and it's good and smart, and well made, I think it's gone. And there will be more.

Alex Ferrari 57:08
Yes, hopefully soon, hopefully. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Eduardo Cisneros 57:18
How to keep interviews short? Answer say I don't think I've learned that lesson.

Alex Ferrari 57:28
And we'd love you for that, sir. We'd love you for that. And, and if and what do you have anything else coming out soon? Are you working on anything else?

Eduardo Cisneros 57:37
I'm working on a short circuit. I think we're talking another hour about it.

Alex Ferrari 57:42
Are you working on Short Circuit the reboot?

Eduardo Cisneros 57:45
Yes. And I want to say this, because I read this when when the mood when the news came out. This is a movie that I loved as a kid and been offered a lot of remakes after injection included, a lot of things came my way. I've turned down many remakes because out, because it's just tough to write a remake. It really, really is. And it's not that I'm like, this great amount of dignity, which I want to think I do. But it's more like, I want to do a great job, I want to do a great job writing the script is just really tough. But when I learned that the rights were available, and a light bulb went off in my head, and I was like, Oh, I got it, I know what it is. And on top of that, because I am a brown guy and Latino man, I'm always gonna tell stories from that perspective. So it wasn't like, Oh, I'm gonna brown stuff, stamp the story. And I'm gonna like just take this old story and put it which which happens a lot. In this case, I'm very passionate. I think Jason I found a very special new take on the story and even more so to see within the context of Latin x characters, which we rarely ever get to claim anything that is fantasy or comedy. So if I can call dibs on that sense. It's really amazing. So this is where we're working. We're writing a remake?

Alex Ferrari 59:21
Well, I've spoken to john on the show, john Burnham, the original director of the original short circuit many times and John's a just a treasure and a wealth of knowledge and I've told them so many times short circuits like one of my favorite 80s movie like I when I saw when I saw that when I was I was like, fifth grade I think when I was when I saw that so it was like Johnny five Johnny Oh my god, it was amazing. So I'm looking forward to seeing your your you and Jason's new take on it. It could definitely use with an update. It didn't didn't age. It definitely a movie of its time. So I'm really curious to see what you do with it. But But thank you so much for being on the show. I I appreciate what you're doing. I can't wait to see half half brothers. And I hope everybody goes out and sees it, my friend. Thank you so much.

Eduardo Cisneros 1:00:07
Thank you.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:08
I want to thank and why there's so much for being on the show and sharing his screenwriting journey with the tribe today. Thank you so much, Eduardo. If you want to get links to anything we talked about in this episode, please head over to the show notes at bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/097. And don't forget to check out half brothers, his new movie available in theaters as we speak and hopefully soon available online as well. Thank you guys against so so much for listening. As always keep on writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.


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