Occasionally on STS, we take a break from showcasing scripts, and focus on the masterminds behind the words. Because there’s nothing better than hearing from successful members of “the craft”, and absorbing the sage words they have to tell.
Today, we are happy to publish an interview between STS’s own Anthony Cawood, and Ashley Scott Meyers – a working and produced screenwriter, podcaster and the owner of www.sellingyourscreenplay.com, which offers a range of services to writers trying to break in. In this interview, Ashley discusses his scripts and the movies made from them – plus what he has discovered along the way relating to marketing scripts and getting those all important connections.
Thanks to Ashley for taking the time to share the insights he’s gleaned from doing exactly what many of us are trying to do too – get our beloved features made.
Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on how you got into screenwriting?
I loved movies as a kid and always thought it would be cool to be a screenwriter. I’m not sure why screenwriting appealed to me more than other positions in the film industry, but it did. So after college, without many job prospects, I simply packed up and moved to LA. I grew up in Maryland and did not know anyone in the industry, so when I first got to LA I knew nobody. I worked low level jobs and went back to school where I got an MA in communications with a screenwriting emphasis. I wrote lots of scripts and marketed them as best I could and eventually I sold my first script. I wish I could say I was “off to the races” after that first sale, but it didn’t quite happen like that.
Q: Your first credit, at least according to IMDB, is Dish Dogs, how many screenplays had you written before this?
Dish Dogs was my first professional credit. I think it was the sixth screenplay that I wrote.
Q: Dish Dogs has a fantastic cast, were you on set for the filming?
I was on set a few days during the filming of Dish Dogs. It was a fun experience and I learned a lot.
Q: Was Dish Dogs profitable?
With Dish Dogs, my writing partner and I simply sold the screenplay to the producers, so I honestly don’t know if it was profitable or not. They did get lucky casting Shannon Elizabeth in it, as she was cast before her big break in American Pie. The film did get pretty wide distribution, so it very well might have turned a profit. Things have changed since then, however, so I’m not sure anyone is making movies like that anymore.
Q: Did this first experience fuel your writing passion?
Yes and no. The experience was bittersweet. They did massive changes to the screenplay, so my writing partner and I never felt like they shot our script and we did not like the finished movie. However, it was a first professional credit and we did get paid, so it was exciting, but it little disappointing to.
Q: Your subsequent scripts are all in different genres, what’s your favorite writing genre?
Yes, I have written in a variety of different genres. At the end of the day I think comedy is my favorite genre to write in. It is the most fun.
Q: Your most recent film is Ninja Apocalypse, a martial arts film, how do you go about scripting something so action/fight scene heavy?
With Ninja Apocalypse, I did a lot of research reading other scripts that were heavy on the hand to hand fighting scenes, so I had a good idea how to write them.
Q: Which of your films are you proudest of, and why?
I am probably most proud of Man Overboard. With that film, me and my writing partner were heavily involved in raising the money, so we got to keep a lot of the creative control with it. At the end of the day, I’m not sure it’s any better than Dish Dogs, but it is closer to our vision. So it was a great experience for me and I’m proud of the movie that came from it.
Q: And if I ask the same question, but about your unfilmed scripts, does the answer change?
Yes, there are a couple scripts that have never sold which I probably like better than any of the scripts that have sold. For instance, my baseball comedy is dear to my heart. It’s about a guy with no real talent for baseball but he loves it and he has a lot of heart and is persistent as hell and does eventually have some success in the industry.
Q: You advocate writing and making short films, why do you think they are useful?
Short films can help screenwriters in a variety of ways. You can see your material filmed, which is an incredibly educational experience. You can also meet up-and-coming filmmakers, the director, producer, the actors, and the other crew. This can only help you as your career (and theirs develops). It is also a great way to get some credits on IMDb, and then you can use those credits when you pitch your feature material. Also, in many cases the short films will go to film festivals, and if you can win some awards there, then you are an award-winning filmmaker. Again, this can help you when you pitch your other material. Shorts are so easy to make these days, there really is no excuse not to make them.
Q: How do you approach structure in your scripts? Do you follow any particular method?
I do a lot of outlining with my screenplays. I am a big fan of Blake Snyder and his Save the Cat books. He has a beat sheet that is easy to understand and follow, so I will typically do a Blake Snyder Beat Sheet before I start writing any actual screenplay pages.
Q: Do you have a manager/agent? What are your thoughts on them and how to get them?
I do not currently have an agent or a manager. I have a lawyer that I work with to help with negotiating contracts. I think in general writers, especially new writers, spend too much time trying to get an agent and manager. I have always found that it’s easier to get a producer to read your script than a good agent or manager. And if the producer likes it, he might just make the film, which will get you a professional credit and then if the film is good, agents and managers will be coming to you. I have had agents and managers over the course of my career, however every single sale and option has been a direct result of my own screenplay marketing efforts. So keep that in mind, you can sell your scripts without an agent or a manager.
Q: What’s your favorite film? And script, if they’re different.
I think Star Wars (Episode IV) is my favorite film. It had a huge impact on me as a kid and I am now re-watching it with my own children, and to me it holds up incredibly well. I still love it.
Q: What’s the best and worse screenwriting advice you’ve been given?
Probably the best screenwriting advice I was ever given was something like “don’t write a play, right plays.” I think this might be a Tennessee Williams quote. But a lot of screenwriters I run into get too fixated on one project. I think writers need to write a lot and get a lot of material ready and sent out. It’s never going to be perfect so make it the best you can and send it out.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters on SimplyScripts?
I think my biggest piece of advice to aspiring screenwriters is to spend more time marketing your screenplays. I often hear from screenwriters who finish a script and send it to one or two contests and when that doesn’t work out, they are demoralized. You have to market a screenplay very, very aggressively to find that one person who believes in it and can make it. So spend as much time marketing your scripts as writing them.
Q: I first came across you due to your podcast, what inspired you to produce this for screenwriters?
I started listening to podcasts a couple of years before I started my own podcast. I still listen to a lot of podcasts now. I think it is a great medium, so I wanted to start one myself. It’s fairly easy to do and it can really impact a lot of people.
Q: And what have been the highlights for you of the shows so far?
I think the highlights from my 100+ shows so far is just hearing all the stories of how people broke into the industry. In many cases it was just a matter of persistence and determination. I hope also, that hearing people talk about their films will make it seem more real to the people who live far from Hollywood and this inspires them to write and market their screenplays. The folks who come on my podcasts are just normal folks like the rest of us. If it happened for them it can happen for you, too.
Q: The Podcasts link to your site www.sellingyourscreenplay.com, what services do you offer?
Selling your screenplay offers a variety of services for screenwriters. We have an email and fax blast service that sends your query letter to thousands of producers, agents and managers. We also have a script analysis service where one of our professional readers will read your script and give you notes on it. We also offer paid screenwriting leads through SYS Select. This is a monthly fee and you get paid screenwriting leads emailed to you several times per week.
Q: I know some of the services are paid for, but you also offer some free email guides and the like, why do you provide so much free content?
We do also offer a lot of free content. We have a free guide, “How to Sell Your Screenplay in Five Weeks,” that you can find at selling sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. Also the podcast is free. The reason I provide so much free content is really two fold. First, it does give back to the screenwriting community. But also it is a way of marketing our paid services. It is called content marketing. I think this is a great way to market screenwriting services. It is a win – win. Aspiring screenwriters get high quality free content and we get to advertise our paid services. Then, if a screenwriter is ever in the market for our services, hopefully they will consider us.
Q: There are a ton of people out there who offer coverage services, position themselves as guru’s etc, what sets your services apart?
You are correct, there are a ton of other screenwriting services out there. The main thing that sets SYS apart from other services is that it is run by me. I am a working screenwriter. I am optioning and selling screenplays and getting paid writing assignments on a regular basis. So a lot of what I talk about is my experiences. I don’t know of a single other screenwriting service where the person running it is an actual screenwriter with actual screenwriting credits. Hopefully my own experiences can help other people, too.
Q: You provide an email/fax blast to producers, how does this work and have writers who’ve used the service had any success?
The email and fax blast to producers is pretty straightforward. You simply write up a query letter and then we blast it out to the 5000 producers who are on our email and fax blast list. There have been numerous successes from this. I have interviewed some of the folks on the podcast and have had success with it myself. Go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/success to see some first-hand accounts.
Q: You’ve used services yourself like Inktip and The Blacklist. What is your view on this type of model for screenwriters to get their scripts seen, and hopefully picked up?
Correct, I have used InkTip and The Blacklist to market my own screenplays. I think screenwriters should do everything and anything to market their scripts, so InkTip and The Blacklist are great channels to do just that. I have optioned one script through InkTip so I know it can work.
Q: You moved to LA early in your career. What’s your advice to writers contemplating the move and do you think it’s useful?
This is a common question: “do I have to be in Los Angeles to make it as a screenwriter?” The answer is “no,” you do not have to be here. However it makes it a whole lot easier. I interviewed Chris Sparling on the podcast. He wrote the movie Buried starring Ryan Reynolds. He has a successful screenwriting career living far from Los Angeles. So it can be done. But if you live in Los Angeles, there are so many small little benefits it’s hard to even write them all down. You will meet other people in the industry on a regular basis who you can network with. You will be around like-minded people who will push you to get better. Some of your friends will have success right in front of your own eyes, which will inspire you to do better. Living in LA makes a nearly impossible thing just a little easier. And for most of us, we need every little advantage we can get.
Q: You’re very self effacing, you often say things like ‘I write low budget’ and ‘I’m not trying to break in higher’… this seems a very pragmatic approach, is it based on experiences?
Yes, I have pretty much given up on trying to become a big studio level screenwriter. It is a lot of work and while there is a huge upside, in all likelihood you will end up spinning your wheels and wasting your time trying to accomplish this. So I am spending my time writing lower budget genre films, because I know I can get those scripts sold. Ultimately, I do believe that if one of these low-budget genre films is a breakout hit, it would propel me to the next level. So I am trying to minimize my downside as much as possible while still maintaining the potentially huge upside.
Q: Any advice for writers who think they have the next $200 million hit script if they could just get an agent?
Well if you have a larger budgeted screenplay, I think places like The Blacklist and screenplay contests are your best options. The thing about those big studio scripts, despite what people think, they must be really good. And if they are not really good, there is nothing that can be done with them – so you’ve wasted your time writing it. However, if you write something that can be shot on a low budget, even if it’s not really good, you still have a shot at getting it made because at this level, things like budget and cast are bigger considerations than the screenplay.
Q: What projects are you working on now and when can we next expect to see your name on the credits?
I am currently working on a micro budget feature film called The Pinch. I did a kick starter campaign last month and raised a little over $12,000. I have also raised another $15,000, which is basically me putting in money and an actor friend also putting in money. So I am going to shoot the film in July. That will probably be my next credit. Although I did have a few writing assignments last year and optioned some spec scripts, so perhaps one of those will make it into production before The Pinch.
Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?
Just keep writing as much as you possibly can. And once you have a few scripts under your belt start trying to market them aggressively.
About the Interviewer, Anthony: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.