TRANSCRIPT EP3 - Screenwriting for Streaming & Production with Melissa Rundle



AUDIO OF THIS PODCAST IS AVAILABLE HERE


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Geoffrey

All right. Welcome to the successful screenwriter podcast where we are dedicated to anything and everything screenwriting. Here we interview successful screenwriters and filmmakers to discover just what it takes to make it in the industry. We got a real special guest here we have Melissa Rundle, thanks for being on Melissa.


Melissa

Thank you so much for having me on.


Geoffrey

It's just great to have you on. So, from what I heard, you have written a lot of stuff and you've worked for a production company who's got work on Hulu, Netflix, Quibi so we just want to hear about your origin. How did you fall into screenwriting?


Melissa

I first started wanting to be a writer when I grew up in Vancouver and my parents divorced when I was two, my mom stayed in the city, my dad moved to the country and so I would spend summer vacations up there and this really beautiful town, but there was nothing to do and as a super nerdy allergic little girl I couldn't go outside so I started renting videos from the video store there and I saw the Godfather when I was nine


Geoffrey

Oh, my goodness(laughs)


Melissa

No, that's so crazy but I watched it on repeat the whole summer and then when I got to the city, I asked my school, please can you order me a screenplay copy of The Godfather? And they did. And I read it and I never read a screenplay before but I was just like, that's it. That's what I want to do.


Geoffrey

And how old were you?


Melissa

I was 9-10


Geoffrey

Wow, that's amazing and so then you've kind of geared towards that ever since that's been your focus.


Melissa

Yes.


Geoffrey

That’s impressive.


Melissa

Yeah, so I have detoured. I majored in women's studies and film production and even then, within the film production program, I really liked cinematography and editing, and I wasn't sure about writing. That's what I want to do but the more scripts that I wrote, it felt right.


Geoffrey

It's fantastic so you went to film school?


Melissa

Went to film school for undergrad and then I did detour for law school. It didn't take.


Geoffrey

Just trying it out, Yeah, why not.


Melissa

Yeah, it was in Montreal. It was the coldest winter on record, minus 30 degrees (Laughs) Celsius. I don't even know what that is Fahrenheit but it was really cool and the palm trees in California looked good so I applied to USC grad school for film production and from my thesis, I did a script. A lot of students they a director short film, but I think so many of my friends. Its 60 grand, and we're making a film and I was thinking oh, what's cheaper? Paper and ink but also I just want to write my feature so I wrote a feature called Plan B and it was about three teen girl best friends who have 72 hours to get the morning after pill. Its reality and I was interning for a director at the time called Mark Rossmann. He directed a Cinderella story, and the perfect man, starring Hilary Duff and so I thought, great. This is a teen girl comedy script. I'll give it to him and as soon as he read it, he wanted to direct it and we ended up doing it


Geoffrey

Yeah, it had to be really good because a director at that caliber, he'll read an intern script but if it's not that good, he'll just give you notes on it but if he wanted to make it and wrap it, kudos to you. That's fantastic. That's taking advantage of an opportunity when you see it and that's one of the ways that you break in.


Melissa

Yeah, that’s true. I was definitely nervous to give it to him but I mostly gave it to him as, if you could please give me feedback. I never assumed that I'm giving this to you to direct, no. Please give me some feedback.


Geoffrey

Yeah, you weren't dripping with desperation. You didn't have all of your hopes and dreams on this script. Obviously impressed him.


Melissa

I feel if you can, in any genre, if you could write what you know, or if you can bring, any kind of seeds of authenticity to your story, I think that really helped because a lot of the feedback I got from that script was wow, I can't believe all this happened. Yeah, it really did.


Geoffrey

I think that's really interesting, because people tend to talk about, oh, you know, gritty realism, but realism doesn't have to be gritty. It just has to be authentic and I think you're absolutely right by bringing in that voice of authenticity, of not just knowing the material or knowing your characters, but emotionally being able to express it and I would assume you're not just being a woman, but you had you majored in women's studies so that reinforced what you're going through as well. I think that's a really great tip for anybody listening, that brings some authenticity to your stories, and it will take it to another level. It's fantastic.


Melissa

I also feel about what you mentioned about knowing your characters, I think that is also so important. I almost feel audiences will watch an interesting character and maybe the plot isn't that great, but I feel if the character is interesting, and will hold an audience's attention better, and I don't know, I feel sometimes, if I'm having trouble getting to know a character, what I'll do is I'll do this one exercise and it's I will write and record everything about the character from the moment the character wakes up to the time it goes ahead, the character goes to sleep.


Geoffrey

So a day in their life. , what a great drill. I love that. Fantastic technique, Wonderful.


Melissa

Yeah and even if you're having trouble imagining stuff, you can just start with your own stuff, what kind of sheets are in your bed? what's the art in your bedroom and just kind of start spinning and then what's really cool is I feel if you really know your character, the character will start to do things on their own.


Geoffrey

Yeah, they’ll definitely speak to you. I remember writing out an outlining a plot and then doing a sci fi film was getting wrapped at sci fi channel it was a creature horror film. It was really cool and I had written initially for one of the characters to die within the first 15 pages, and that was outline and everything and she would not let me kill her off and so the very end of the script, , and then I had to kill her off and so sometimes they will speak to you. That's absolutely true and then, you know, do the best he can to adapt to that. Wow, what a great drill. I got to be honest with you, I'm probably going to steal that technique when I'm teaching and writing (laughs) If the guy that wrote a screenwriting book is stealing a technique for you, that should say something? Well, I guess you could call that kind of your big break moment. Getting into it and then from there, I assume you ended up landing some writing gigs at their production companies.


Melissa

I feel everyone's path is kind of different and luck and just weird circumstances plays a part in that but yes, so we went out with it, we went out with Plan B, and it attracted my reps. So that was great.


Geoffrey

Now did you approach representation or did they approach you word of mouth?


Melissa

They did approach me and a lot of writers have asked me, how do you get your reps and I do feel I totally lucked out. I think because we took the script out with Mark directing, and Neil Israel producing.


Geoffrey

Yeah, of course, He had some hate behind the project.


Melissa

Yeah and get to my management company, which is also a production company and they read it and they really liked it. They liked my voice because when I got back was wow, this is really I don't think teen girls like this and this is too edgy but I felt that there was something there my voice was very defined and through that, um, I got to Cartoon Network holiday specials super kid friendly, g rated, that's good.


Geoffrey

So you landed that through Plan B, did Plan B get made?


Melissa

No.


Geoffrey

See, this is exactly what I'm talking about. I've been telling writers this, your breakout scripts, your script that makes you it's your resume. It's your calling card. It’s you walking into the door and then you they'll say, well, we have this other thing. You landed two specials out of that so plan b didn't get made, but it opened the door. So when you if you're listening to this, get that out there but don't be married to that script. It is just your calling card is your resume, I don't love that it didn't happen but I love the success you got from it because the same thing happened to me, I had a script that that went all over the place did really well I got attention from it, and then ended up getting gigs from it and that's when my eyes open but before that I was thinking, This is my golden ticket and it's not. Well, that's absolutely wonderful. So tell me about the differences of say writing for you or writing for a production company.


Melissa

Okay, when I write my own scripts, I don't hold back, I don't have an exact team telling me the vision they want executed so I just I put everything in there because like you say, I feel with your own scripts, I would rather not play it safe. I would rather put your voice in there and I feel for your writing soul, you need to do that. You know, just get it out there. Get it all down.


Geoffrey

And no holds barred. Just go done.


Melissa

Yeah, totally and another example is, I wrote this TV script called Mali and also based on a true story is about a teen girl who sold ecstasy built an ecstasy Empire.

All my romantic comedy mar vista hallmark movies, they read that and then they were asked, can you write a puppy for Christmas? And I said, yes. I would love to and it's true and, I feel the same energy though I that you bring for your original scripts, you should also bring for your assigned assignment.


Geoffrey

Let’s break a few of these points down because you hit it some good stuff. So I'm writing for you. Yeah, do whatever you want to do. You don't care about budget. You don't even necessarily really care about genre. You're just gonna get it done and kind of express that inner fire that's burning in you, right? So writing for production companies different though, you want to keep in mind budget right?


Melissa

Yeah. I do think for the first draft, put it all in


Geoffrey

Put it all in for the first draft. Okay.


Melissa

It depends what you're working with for example, I'm writing this one rom com about florist who falls in love. Okay. Very sweet story, I'm not going to add helicopters in a submarine.


Geoffrey

So, no explosions.


Melissa

No.

Geoffrey

All right. I don't know if I can write it.


Melissa

Yeah, I mean, but I also feel l the production company or whoever has hired you. I feel they've hired your voice to execute their vision when you're writing your own stuff. It's your own. You're policing yourself internally and when you're writing for a production company or an executive or something. They're going to give you notes and I feel there's an art in applying their notes.


Melissa

you're still trying to keep the vision of the story, so I feel I've met a lot of writers who on assignments and stuff, they really buckle down, I'm not going to change this, and I'm not going to change that and my theory is, if you get a note, do the note. Choose the hills, you're gonna die on especially if someone has hired you and it's not your original concept.


Geoffrey

I agree with that completely when I get gigs, and I get notes from the client, director, producer unless that note, is going to severely break this story. I'm not going to fight them on it. Oh, I'll be, Okay, let's do it, put it in and I don't know how you were, when I first started getting notes. It was tough. I mean, I took it emotionally to my heart and I was compromising my vision, and you don't understand and then I started really, okay, nobody wants to work with that guy. People want to work with somebody who they see as a team teammate, a partner and so those notes mean something, and they're giving you note that note for a reason.


Melissa

Definitely, I feel especially the first time you get an assignment from a company, or whoever I feel this is your audition and so you don't want to come across as a difficult writer, you want to come across as someone who's fun to work with, who is , going to bring energy to the script because you're really trying to build relationships, it goes beyond the assignment you're trying to say,, for example, when COVID-19 hit, and production was all shut down because I had built these relationships I had with producers and production companies, I'm really busy as the busiest I've ever been which is good, though, because I feel, if I had been difficult to work with, or, I mean, I'm not just saying just rollover, and take everything,


Geoffrey

I think what I'm hearing is that it needs to be synergistic. You need to be coming at each other. How do I bring value to this project? How does my voice help this practice about the betterment of their project and not about my ego as a writer?


Melissa

And I do have to say, just real quick that being said about the emotional roller coaster, when you do first get knows even if it is an assignment. If you are a writer, and you're getting notes, and they hurt, I never email back right away. If I get a note, just take a night or a day or something and just emotionally separate yourself and take a shot and then come back at it.


Geoffrey

Don't stew on it overnight, though, so that the next day you're angrier but take time and reflect and definitely bring it in and think about it and let yourself cool off. I think I think that's great. I mean, burning bridges is very easy in this industry. You say the wrong thing at the wrong time and then you're done. You'll just get ghosted. So, yeah,


Melissa

Sometimes you don't even say the wrong thing at the wrong time and you get ghosted.


Geoffrey

Careful tread lightly (laughs)


Melissa

There was a show that was up for and she’d be a junior show runner.


Geoffrey

Oh, wow.


Melissa

Cute production companies sign off on me. They said I like this writer. We've heard her pitch. You've read her work. This is great. I'm the one of the person who basically had the rights to the story. I was all set to pitch and I was going to come in that day and by the way, it's a whole emotional roller coaster when you're pitching to because you're practicing you’ve got to get your energy up and, it can be a little exciting and they were just, no, cancel. I don't want to I don't want to see her.


Geoffrey

Oh, my goodness. Oh, that'd be hard to take.


Melissa

Yeah, but I feel at this point, I just feel failure and rejection and rolls off of me.


Geoffrey

Yeah, well, , your heart and your you've been through it, you're in the process and you kind of build that, that shelf and I've had as many rejections if not more than anyone, so I get it and, I'm still here. You got to be Rocky, you got to take that punch and keep standing.


Melissa

It's very masochistic.


Geoffrey

I don't want to get into the personality traits it takes to be a screenwriter but she had to be tough for sure. All right, so I want to circle back to management, because he said something that was, and we kind of glossed over for a moment, but I think it could be big for some newer writers. So management, or I should say, correctly, representation, which that'd be an agent or manager. So from my experience, and please chime in. If you get approached by an agent, because they hear about your work, and you get recommended to them but I find that a manager can be approachable, you can query manager, you can build a relationship with a manager, and that it's easier to get a manager than an HR, do you feel that's accurate?


Melissa

It was the opposite for me. So I got management and then once I got my management through their contacts, they got me my agent,


Geoffrey

Wonderful. That's great, that works as well, from the experience that I found, you can't get the time of day from an agent, but you can overtime, build that relationship with a manager, and then and then hopefully get there.. So let's talk about when that opportunity strikes and rolling that big script and into more work and building those relationships? Do you have any kind of tips for people when they start to get a little bit of heat behind their script?


Melissa

I would just say, to keep up the relationships that you have producers and directors, I'm always emailing, every couple months, especially if you have a new material out there and you feel confident to send it out and if you have a relationship with an exact and they'll read your work, if you just send it to them. That's really good and I will hold on to that and keep touching it and then talk about what you're working on, too so it doesn't feel one sided. So it doesn't feel as if you're just coming to them being like, hey, do you have any work? Yeah, I think it also helps to research completely their company what they're looking for because a lot of these are cyclical.


Geoffrey

Yeah and you can get that information on IMDB pro and stuff,


Melissa

I was gonna say variety is really good as well.


Geoffrey

Yeah, the trades are fantastic.


Melissa

And also, if they've had an accomplishment themselves, contact them and say, congratulations because anything getting made isn't any miracle.


Geoffrey

I think that's a great idea to contact somebody and say congratulations. If you see him in the trades or if they're face booking it or something like that. I think that's wonderful. Yeah, keep that relationship fresh. What a great piece of piece of wisdom there because how many of us just kind of make the networking, make the contacts and then we kind of forget, but I think sending out that pleasant email, not too friendly, but obviously not to business either you want to kind of draw that business casual, sort of relationship.

So do you feel that writing for streaming is any different fan writing for feature for television? Do you think there's a difference?


Melissa

Yeah, huge difference, one, especially, if you're writing for streaming, and TV show and feature writing are so different, with the show, you're in a room with other writers, and you're breaking the whole story and so it's a really collaborative atmosphere. one thing that I wished film school had was a course where it teaches you The politics and the politics of a writers room, But what you should do and what you what you shouldn't do and you know how to be helpful in a room I just think that would have been


Geoffrey

Yeah, I'm sure there's a lot of foot and mouth moments are tripping over your own fee when it gets to first getting into writers room.


Melissa

Well, I researched everything so I was okay but I feel had I not done that maybe? You know, you just you don't know.


Geoffrey

When it comes to writing for streaming does the network itself have a lot of weight on the material?


Melissa

Yeah, Big time


Geoffrey

Do they give you heavy notes?


Melissa

They’re giving creative notes. They’re involved with casting production, everything.


Geoffrey

So these who lose in these Netflix's from your experience they're kind of deriving a lot of the style almost of it.


Melissa

Oh, yeah. Hundred percent


Geoffrey

That's really interesting. So now, that's not even something I would have considered. I would have thought they bought that concept and then you would just know now? Yeah, they probably have and they probably have particular talent. They've got agreements with if they want to work another script. Yeah, that's fascinating. Do you have any other tips or anything about streaming gigs? Because I know, there's a lot more opportunities showing up for streaming?


Melissa

I mean, it's different, because some of my projects that are available on Hulu, or Amazon, or whatever, those were made from one production company and their distribution plan was these platforms, right? It's a bit different lab. For example, the query show that I'm working on that's coming from Quibi. I will say that it's really, really important to have your cliffhangers at the end, because you want people to keep rolling and make sure they have that act out going into the very next one.


Geoffrey

I think that's interesting actually did. Research actually was in an article and was a pop inside or something as a magazine about the addiction to streaming shows and that it takes three episodes to the mind become addicted to a television show and the brain actually releases serotonin when you stream and bench so if you binge over time, you literally release serotonin and become addicted to the show. So I always think the first three episodes you really got to bang about perfectly, People coming back then after that may be bad. You can probably back off a little bit. But yeah, that’s interesting.


Melissa

What am I bingeing right now and I am bingeing I totally became addicted to, I think I watched the whole thing in two days, and I'm a mom of an 18 month old, so that is hard to do. I am watching uploaded now on Amazon.


Geoffrey

It's so good. Oh, my god that writings

Yeah, it's great. Well, I think that's we've covered everything unless you have anything else you any tips or anything you wanted to bring out for any of the listeners. But just to have you on here as a writer who's worked for a production company as an actively working writer who's banging out shows on streaming services. I mean, it's fantastic. It's great for the community. Really appreciate that. I hope I've asked all the right questions and so if you have anything else, we can have a couple minutes for a few more tips.


Melissa

A few more tips. I would again, I would just say don't be married to anything, married in, two ideas or lines. I really love this line of dialogue if it doesn't work, just cut it loose so be flexible.

Yeah. And another thing is, even when your original stuff is about to get made. I feel then people can get really possessive. But I say just don't. Don't do that and just it's because your career is going to be better if you get your original content made. You know what I mean? You’re always going to have good ideas, there's going to be other projects that you're going to create you're going to want to do and it looks better if you have one movie made, as opposed to no movies made.

Yeah. So don't sabotage yourself by being too hung up on your own vision of what the success is, and allow that. Yeah, I mean, I think that's great. That's all about, working again, as a team, , they want to get it made to, that's why they provided you with the opportunity and if you're the only one in your way, get out of your way, get the thing, man and I've even found when I've gotten notes on scripts, notes that I thought were brutal, , well, this is gonna ruin this thing, and then I would go through, I would challenge myself, and how do I take this note that I despise, and make something brilliant out of it? And I would challenge myself to do that and I would take that note, and I would rework this script and inevitably, it would be better and then I was thankful for it.

I think it would be really good for every writer to have one person that they trust implicitly creatively, because and that's not saying, Oh, just because of this person says to make this change, I'm going to make that change. It could even just have you be, oh, you know what? No, I can use you as a creative sounding board, it's so helpful because everyone who reads your script wants to comment on it and wants to add their own stuff. We call it creative urination.

That's right. I forgot about your term. I love that because everybody wants to leave their mark.


Geoffrey

Yeah. That's nice. that's a fantastic tip right there and it's important to have somebody in your life you can talk with and sit down with and get it all out and then someone who can make sense to you, what you don't want is a yes, man. That's the last thing you want. I've got a couple of people that I know who are Yes, people and I know what I'm talking to them there. Yes, people and it feels nice but I know that's not what I need. So then I'll call my one of my good friends who is just honest, as they are brutal, and I'm thankful for it because, that’s what you need.


Melissa

Yeah, I would love a yes, man. It would just soothe my writer's soul, you get beat up.


Geoffrey

Well, I mean, you need to know though. I mean, I know that , they're being emotionally supportive and that's what they're doing and I appreciate that, but I wouldn't sit there and think, oh, they're absolutely right. No, I go to my person that I know that I can really lean on and then and it's just important to have that but the emotionally supportive person is great there when you're at your lowest right and you need somebody to kind of build you up. But I will do both. I will be the emotionally supportive but I will give you the honest truth. (Laughs) So well, this has been great. This has been fantastic having me on I really want to say thank you.


Melissa

Thank you.


Geoffrey

You take it easy, be safe out there.


Melissa

Yeah, you too