Now, in the home stretch of a very exhilarating, trying, and humbling experience, I’m proud to be able to say that the film I devoted nearly two years of my life to—Dead Inside (aka The Evil Inside)—is on store shelves in the UK on DVD and Blu-Ray, has been garnering great press and reviews on such sites as Blogomatic3000, Aint it Cool News, and Nerd Reactor, has won multiple festival awards, and will be playing at 5 more prestigious festivals around the world at the end of this month. With its very hard-won attention and with the marketing skills of our sales agents at Bleiberg Entertainment, the great hope is that Dead Inside will be making a proud showing at the American Film Market next week.
(And then I’ll be able to celebrate as only I know how. Expect the coroner’s report to read: “died from a combination of relief, excessive Pringles consumption, and a lethal amount of video gaming. Witnesses report last words: “Hadouken!”)
But before the film found life and a shiny green light with the generous backing of 8 Silicon Valley Engineers, before we attached an experienced director, crewed up, and rolled camera—Dead Inside looked like this:
That’s right. Dead Inside is a Save the Cat! baby. The plot was beat out in a STC! Beat Sheet workshop in 2011. Its 40 pivotal scenes were mapped on the Save the Cat! software, and a massive amount of emotional support and mental fortitude was furnished by my fellow STC! writing buddies and my dear friend BJ Markel (HI, BJ!).
Here’s the original logline:
Six teenagers are confined to a home in which they encounter their own corpses as premonitions of their impending deaths. Before suspicion causes them to turn murderously against each other, they must decipher whether the visions represent the preventable or the inevitable, or something entirely more sinister.
But after my discerning STC! workshop classmates (lovingly) smacked me on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper for not establishing whose story it was, I gave my protagonist a stronger presence and the story transformed into its current on-screen incarnation, with this summary:
Sarah, a teen with a history of mental illness, has a jarring premonition of her friends’ impending deaths one night at a sleepover. As her houseguests begin to turn murderously against each other, Sarah must determine whether her visions represent the preventable or the inevitable… or something entirely more sinister.
If I’m making it seem like Dead Inside jumped from workshop to computer screen to silver screen in a few magical, lucky leaps, I apologize. It certainly didn’t, and I have the battle scars to prove it. And if you’re a screenwriter who has toyed with the idea of taking the reins in turning one of your scripts into an independent film, I’ve learned a thing or two that I would love to share with you, in case it makes it easier.
::Jennifer prepares to mount her high horse::
::High horse throws her off::
Fine. I’ll just preach from here. Where I’m sitting. In the mud.
But how’s my hair look?
1) Even if your script is for an independent film, make sure it has mass appeal.
My very first screenplay, written with no prior research or schooling, was based on my own experiences as an aspiring novelist in Los Angeles, living among aspiring actresses and models. It was entitled This is L.A, was 230 pages long, semi-autobiographical… and made me look like total a douche. That last detail was something that I didn’t realize immediately, or for a while. It took a rejection from UCLA’s screenwriting program, a director I admired telling me no one would want to watch a four hour-long movie about characters this pathetic (ouch), and finally – Blake Snyder explaining in his workshop that everyone thinks his or her own life story is screen worthy (but is often wrong) – before I finally loosened my deathgrip on the script. The feeling was akin to dropping a baby down a well and walking away.
There were a few screenplays and hundreds of rejections in between, but by the time I penned Dead Inside I made sure it was primal and thus has wide appeal: something Blake stresses. It’s a story about a lonely, bewitchingly pretty girl, trapped in an unsettling place with dangerous people, with murder most foul lurking around every corner.
Now, you can write an artsy, esoteric masterpiece, but good luck trying to keep the eyes of investors, sales agents, or distributors from glazing over after you’ve described your independent film as being “niche.” The “primal” element, I’ve been told, is why horror films generally do so well in the international film market, even without name actors. And with our first two big sales to date for Dead Inside being in the overseas market (thanks to the great folk at Bleiberg), I’m a believer.
2) Consider producing your own work.
This is not an invitation to take the script of yours that everyone hates, and say “Screw them! These people don’t recognize genius when they see it!”, and then to empty out your bank account and call up your unemployed film school buddy for a “great opportunity.” But if everyone (make sure to include impartial parties!) seems to love your script, you’re still looking at about six months to a year after you’ve mailed your query letters before an agent gets around to signing you, and who knows how many months or years after that before it gets bought by a studio. And then it’s anybody’s guess when or if ever it will actually be made into a movie.
So if you have a script in your back pocket that’s relatively low-budget and pretty well-liked, you might owe it to yourself to start putting your efforts into finding a producer or learning how to produce, reaching out to bankable directors or actors to attach to your project, and putting all of this together into a pretty package for investors to look at. Through conversations with more accomplished producers throughout the production of my movie, I was shocked—time and time again—at the caliber of directors and actors (some A-listers!) that could be attached to a project with the promise of just a $15,000 payday if the film was green lit, as long as they believed in the script.
For Dead Inside, though I had set things in motion with a script that our executive producers saw promise in, they only really had the confidence to invest after the script came back to them a second time with their requested story revisions… and a director with a solid track record and a soft commitment from a reputable sales agent attached.
3) And if you are thinking of producing your own independent film, you can get the ball rolling by producing something small first.
Believe me, it makes every stage a lot easier if you have a producing or writing success—even a small one—under your belt, simply for the fact that life is about chain reactions. Dead Inside is my first feature film, true. But a year before the possibility of making a full-blown movie was even a whisper of a kernel of a notion in my mind, I had gotten a group of acting school buddies together to help make a little parody short film called “Street Fighter High” that unexpectedly exploded all over the internet. I followed it up with its sequel, “Street Fighter High: The Musical,” which was just as silly as its predecessor and doubly popular.
For some reason that I’m enormously grateful for, people liked it. In fact, enough people liked it that Hollywood agents and managers started taking notice. And it was through one of these interested managers that I was introduced to Pearry Teo – the talented director who would eventually come to helm Dead Inside. During post production, when our amazing editor Danny Daneau was taking a few weeks to put together an assembly cut based on the director’s notes, I took the down time to write and produce another fan project for the web—“Batman: Death Wish”—which is today the second most viewed dramatic Batman short on YouTube. When it came time to reach out to press to promote Dead Inside, among the first websites to report on my movie were ones that had recently covered “Batman: Death Wish.” Other ways Dead Inside was helped along by the smaller projects I produced for the web: Matthew Mercer—our highest-profile cast member who is currently in the spotlight for voicing the title character in the new Resident Evil game—was someone I met and befriended when he volunteered to make a guest appearance on “Street Fighter High: The Musical.” And some of my most treasured consultants during production, who lent me their expertise and resources on more than one occasion, are my amazing friends at HD Films, whom I only had the fortune of meeting after they approached me to appear in their “Street Fighter” music video. Some of the hardest working crew members on the set of Dead Inside were (surprise!) the great guys and gals who had already worked with me on my web shorts.
So, basically, if you can produce a smaller project before embarking on the more challenging journey of a feature film, please do. You’ll be surprised by the benefits that can and will carry over when you need them. Nothing is for nothing.
That’s all, folks! If you found any of the above helpful or insightful, and if you happen to be in the UK, you would be doing me a great service if you rented or bought a copy of The Evil Inside (which is Dead Inside renamed for the international market) this Halloween. And if anyone out there would be so kind as to let your friendly neighborhood movie distributor know that we’re looking for a domestic buyer to bring Dead Inside to the American masses at AFM next week, there’s some major screenwriter karma points for you!
Until next time, kitties!
::Flies away on a broomstick. IN YOUR FACE, HIGH HORSE!::