Sunday, December 14, 2014

Getting The Girl: Part I


 I've been excited to sit down and chronicle the last few months of my life in this blog for quite some time. But as is the case with most things, finding the free moments in my life is difficult. Especially when we're talking about digging through the files in my brain to remember what's happened. And if I do happen to have the time, usually I just want to veg out and relax. Or be social with the people I've been putting off for months. It's a rigorous cycle of lots of work and little play... But it's my life and I'm in love with it. It's the life I chose and it's finally paying off.

Last post was about how I was starting over. It was time to readjust some things in my life. CONTRACTED came out and was a smashing success. I signed with a new agent. I started fielding offers to write and direct new films (If my mind serves me correctly, I had 8 new and most importantly REAL offers within the first 6ish months of the new year -- that was a new experience for me). 
My junior year in high school.

I was ready to get back on the horse. But A LOT happened after I typed "Publish" on that last article... A LOT. 

Picking up from April, it had been roughly a year and a half since shooting CONTRACTED and I needed to get back behind the camera. I was jonesing. But I knew I had to be careful. You've probably heard me say this before but Hollywood is a lot like high school. Your momentum and popularity are just as important as the films you make. So I couldn't just put my name on anything and go shoot it.

THE SIRENS ultimately hit a couple of bumps in the financing and we decided to push the film. I began revisiting other projects, whether they were my own or ones being offered to me. It took a while of digging through crap to try and find gold until I finally started doing what I should have done in the first place... Trust my gut.

That began when I decided to start working with my new manager, Marc Manus.

Manus had been in my life for quite some time. We met a couple of years back when I connected with his client TJ Cimfel (ridiculously talented writer and incredible human being) - who recently wrote part of V/H/S: VIRAL and his upcoming film SHUT IN (more on that one in a second). TJ wrote a screenplay called BENEATH (retitled to HELLBENT) and I fell in love with it. Over the years of trying to get that produced, we all kept in touch and I even suggested a few clients and made some connections to Manus when I could. He graciously did the same and we got along famously. We met for the first time, in person, at FEARTASTIC in Palm Springs:

Nov 2013. From Left to Right: Bradley Sullivan (Director of I DIDN'T COME HERE TO DIE), ADAM SCHINDLER (Director of SHUT IN), Marc Manus (Manager of the two hooligans next to him), Hillbilly from Arkansas, John Pata (Director of DEAD WEIGHT) and Adrian Garcia Bogliano (Director of LATE PHASES/HERE COMES THE DEVIL)

While in Arkansas (April-May 2014), several things happened: CONTRACTED came out on DVD. SIRENS cooled off. I was approached about directing 4 potential new films and I was moving across the country... Again. Except I was already living in LA. This time, it was my girlfriend.

In the midst of all of this, my buddy Eric Fleischman (lovely person and extremely talented storyteller/producer) reached out to me about doing a movie together as well. I instantly told him about a screenplay TJ had written called SHUT IN. It was an amazing script I had sent to producers in the past and had even gotten it optioned. I really wanted to make this movie. More importantly, I wanted to work with TJ. SHUT IN was contained. It was unique. It was awesome. Everything I was looking for in a next film. Fleischman read it and loved it and we were off to the races. We reached out to Manus about getting the rights to the screenplay and everything seemed like it could be smooth sailing. But I forgot one of the first rules in the book surrounding making movies...


As I was digitally location scouting and planning on cast, crew, etc to shoot a movie in a couple of months, I was informed that the financier didn't obtain the rights to the screenplay. When asked where they were now?


"Excuse me?" 

"Manus sold it to the producers of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D and INSIDIOUS


Speechless. We were outbid. To Manus' credit, he did the best thing for his client (which wasn't me at the time) and I found out the person to direct the film was also a client of his. A great guy, in fact, Adam Schindler (co-writer/producer of DELIVERY) would be making his directorial debut with it. Ironically, I had just seen Adam at the LITTLE ROCK HORROR PICTURE SHOW just weeks earlier in Arkansas. Hollywood is small like that. 

I was back at square one. I was a little upset. But I understood. I decided to focus my attention on the move. My agent and (former) manager were ready for me to get to LA. I had been gone, planning to make SIRENS, and just stayed in Arkansas for roughly two months. The next couple of months flew by quickly. It was Summer. We traveled. We moved (twice, in fact, because we didn't like the first place we got together in LA). We traveled some more. Lots of travel.

Upon finally planting new roots in LA, I started to take meetings. I started to seriously look for the next thing. The heavens smiled upon me when my old manager called to tell me a screenplay had just been sent to him and they were interested in hearing my thoughts on it. 

"Great, what is it?", I asked.

"It's a dark comedy. It's edgy. Kind of romantic. There's a star attached. It's her passion project." 

Fuck yes. All things I wanted to hear. Send it over!

"...They start shooting in five weeks."


"Well, I think their director dropped and they need a replacement. Someone read the script and saw that the main story had to do with sex and they said 'you need to call Eric England, he's the 'sex guy'". 

Great. That's my reputation. Could be worse, I guess.

I mulled it over for a few days. Could I jump on a new film that fast? Especially one I didn't write? With a new crew that's not my own? Would they let me tweak things? Would I HAVE TIME to tweak things? I finally decided to read the script and was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed a lot of what I read and the things I wanted to change would be minimal. I could do this... I said let's take the meeting. This would be my "rebound bang". You know, like when you have your heart broken and you go fill that gaping flesh wound with a one-night (or several night), drunken romp in the sack? This would be that for me, cinematically speaking. But what did I say just a few moments earlier?

"Actually... They don't want to take the meeting."

I was dumbfounded. "What?! Why not?!"

"Well, they watched CONTRACTED and don't think you can handle the humor of their film..."

It was as simple as that. They put me in a box. Hollywood does that. In fact, they WANT that. People want to know what you do so they can keep tabs on you. If you do something different, they feel like they can't pin you down. They can't "brand" you. But that IS my brand! I'm versatile! I can do different things! I WANT to do different things. At least, I don't want to make movies like the ones I already have before. That's all I ask!

That was the end of it. I never got a response. Only that they didn't think I could handle the humor. I didn't get a meeting. I didn't get to talk with them about my ideas. They hired a director and began filming just as they said they would. From the looks of the social media presence, the film is going well. I'm happy for them :)

This is the film.
After that, I decided it was time to get to work for myself. I needed a representative (manager) that would fight for me. This film had slipped through my fingers like Leo drifting away into the ocean at the end of TITANIC. I needed someone that was gonna make room for me on that fucking piece of wood! Especially if that piece of wood was going to be outside the horror genre. I needed a fighter. So I parted ways with my previous manager and started the hunt. 

Mark, my agent at Gersh, was extremely helpful and supportive. He set me up with some incredible managers and I threw some names into the hat as well. I took meeting after meeting and looked at client lists... This was a very important decision for me. 

In June, Eric Fleischman (who, thankfully, is a workaholic like myself) got to work on his next film after SHUT IN fell through and invited me to the set. That film is called RECOVERY. I met with him and the other producers and they mentioned that they'd like to make a film with me. Whatever I wanted.

"What are you looking to do?", they asked.

Probably the scariest question that can be asked to a young writer/director. What DO I want to do? Should I do something new? Should I stick with what I know?! After the SHUT IN incident and THE ESCORT, I didn't want to do something I didn't write. I wanted something I KNEW I would own the rights to. Something I KNEW would happen. I wanted to write something specifically for them and make this something new and exciting. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to try something I hadn't done before. I told them I didn't want to do something people expected from me... They asked "What do you have?"

That's when I realized I completely just lied because I didn't own the rights to what I wanted to do, but I told them about it anyway... It was a story called GET THE GIRL.

GET THE GIRL was a movie idea that had been pitched to me by my buddy Graham Denman, a talented actor, director, musician, etc... He mentioned it to me shortly after CONTRACTED and I instantly fell in love with it. At the time, Graham really wanted to make it as a slasher film in the woods and he was planning on it being his directorial debut. Kind of a SCREAM meets CABIN IN THE WOODS type of film. Very smart. Very witty. The pitch stuck with me always. I could see the movie in my head. I kept adding my own stuff to it. The best part? I saw it as several different films. This idea could be taken in a ton of directions and if I was ever to do something like it -- it would have to be different from anything I've ever done.

The crazy man behind the idea for GET THE GIRL.
It came out instinctively when they asked. I didn't have time to react. The first thing I said was "GET THE GIRL". They looked at me like "what's that?" I had no idea. 

I had never pitched it to anyone else. Why would I? Graham wanted to direct it. I just fantasized about what I would do with that cool of an idea... I just knew the logline that Graham had pitched me: "Kid kidnaps the love of his life in order to 'save her life' and look like a hero. But when one of the fake kidnappers is accidentally killed, they're actually forced to fight for their lives... While he tries to not reveal that he set her up from the very beginning".

They loved it. They thought it was brilliant. I kept explaining to them how I wanted to do it like a really dark-comedy/crime-thriller. It would still be bloody. It would still be violent and thrilling. But it would be funny! That's something I haven't done in the feature world... Funny! I've been dying to do something funny! And especially after the situation with THE ESCORT, I had to prove to people I could do it.

I kept waiting for them to be put off by the fact that it wasn't a genre film, but they weren't. They loved it. I kept detailing films that I wanted the film to be like, tonally: FARGO. SCREAM. KISS KISS BANG BANG. TRUE ROMANCE. 

They had no idea what the movie was going to be like, they just knew I was excited about it... Hell, I was excited to see it! The movie I saw in my head was the kind of movie I'd always dreamed of making! And now, having a tad more confidence in my own abilities as a storyteller, thanks to CONTRACTED, I felt I could tackle this. GET THE GIRL would be weird... But somehow, it would work, I think. CONTRACTED was that strange moment where you realize your own brand of "weird" or your unique sense of humor makes other people laugh. I didn't have to be a closet weirdo anymore. I could just be me. People seemed to be into that. And being "me" meant stepping into new territory and making something different... AGAIN. Taking something familiar and doing it in a way we haven't seen before.

But as soon as I told them the idea, I said:

"We have to get Graham on board. It's his story."

It was his idea. It was his baby. I had no idea if he'd even let me have it and direct it! I just knew I had this incredible movie in my head and if I could make it, I would do anything I could to see it come to life!

The discussions started the next day. As I said, Eric moves fast -- as do I, which is why we work well together. Within days, we sat down to meet with Graham. The meeting went famously. Graham was ecstatic. I laid out a few small details of how I wanted to take the material in this different direction and everyone got excited. I had no idea if I could do it... I just knew I had this version in my head. Who knows if it was a full movie or just a trailer on repeat. Either way, we all walked away from that meeting shaking hands and saying "LET'S MAKE A MOVIE".

A couple of weeks later, I had decided on a manager. After weeks of meetings and calls, my agent and I decided Manus was the best fit for what I was trying to do. The deciding factor? Versatility. Marc told me everything I wanted to hear about where I wanted my career to go without any prompting from me. He loved my versatility. He wanted me to play in other genres and encouraged me to be weird and keep my unique voice. He WANTED me to be a writer/director and thinks I have something to say as a storyteller. That vote of confidence meant a lot and was the push I needed, combined with the support and reinforcement of those thoughts by my agent to tackle something new and exciting... To tackle something that I WROTE (something I was a little questionable on for a long time)... something like GET THE GIRL.

During the first initial "sit down" that I had at Gersh with "The Marx" as I call them (Marc Manus, my manager, and Mark Hartogsohn, my agent), we started to discuss what I should do next. I told them I think that GET THE GIRL was actually going to happen... I just needed to get the rights and bang out a screenplay I was happy with.

They looked at me with a blank stare of confusion... Then to each other. Then back to me.

"What is GET THE GIRL?"

Holy shit. I never told them about it!

I instantly went into the pitch and about halfway through, I started to get nervous. I'm horrible at pitching. I'm extremely passionate and I see the film in my head, but I ramble... A lot. I go on tangents. But I tried to keep this concise. By the end of my one minute explosion of pitching GET THE GIRL, they looked to me and said "why did you not bring this to us?!"

Within moments, they gave it their blessing. They were nervous because my pitch was so scattered. Everyone was. But I assured them... "You'll understand when you read it!"



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