HORROR: Interview with LOVELY MOLLY screenwriter Jamie Nash
Jamie Nash is a working screenwriter who lives in Maryland and primarily writes genre films — horror, supernatural, fantasy, etc. He has a strong working relationship with Eduardo Sánchez, co-director of The Blair Witch Project — they have collaborated on a number of projects — the films Altered, Seventh Moon and Exists, and the comedy web series ParaAbnormal.
Jamie and Ed’s latest film is Lovely Molly, an intense horror thriller about the possession of a young woman told via a mix of standard narrative and “found” footage. The film is currently in theaters in a limited release, after playing the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and South by Southwest film festival. There is a wider release planned for the UK and it will go to VOD and DVD in August.
I emailed with Jamie about Lovely Molly, his career, the horror genre and his 10 Steps to Writing 10 Scripts a Year!
DAN CALVISI: How did you get started with screenwriting? What was your first paid or produced gig?
JAMIE NASH: I flirted with screenwriting from early on. I had read Syd Field when I was in high-school and wanted to be a director. I did film school in college (before I switched to computers) and used to write screenplays like shotlists. It was the Interwebs that really got me back into writing. Suddenly it felt like I was connected to others who were on the same journey. I could email producers/agents directly. I could read scripts online. And get peer reviews. If I was born even ten years earlier I would’ve never touched screenwriting.
I had a script bought from me for $10,000 early on by a producer who had no idea what he was doing but was passionate about my writing. The movie never got made. Altered was my first produced gig.
You’ve collaborated with Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project) and Haxan Films on multiple projects. How did you start working with Eduardo and what are the keys to forging a lasting relationship with a collaborator?
JN: Altered was the first one. It was one of those Inktip newsletter tips. “Company B seeks creature features” or whatever. I sent the script to a producer in LA who in turn sent it back to Maryland and Ed who lived a 30-minute drive from my house. It was very different when he read it. It was a horror-comedy I wrote called Probed about rednecks who abduct an alien. Evil Dead 2 in tone. Or maybe Troma. Ed dug it and thought it was funny. But realized horror-comedy might not be the easiest sell. We dug in, changing the tone. Then a lot of the story. We worked on it for a year or two before his Haxan partners checked it out and decided they wanted to make it their next picture.
As for a relationship — and really it’s one of the most important things — part of it is just matching sensibilities, part of it is knowing when to stand your ground and when to just ‘do the notes’. There are many times when the notes don’t really cripple your ‘vision’. If you can fit others ideas into your vision without hurting anything and in most cases by helping you’ll make a lot more friends than not. Part of it is realizing screenwriting is a weird writing job. At some point the shift becomes writing THEIR vision not yours. If you want your version to go up on screen you really need to direct. Otherwise you’re just part of the team, a valuable one — the one who knows about storytelling and is an expert in translating the mundane into something filmable. But nonetheless you need to translate the needs of everyone. Some writers can’t or won’t do that…and maybe they belong in the Novel-writing world.
…part of it is knowing when to stand your ground and when to just do the notes … If you can fit others’ ideas into your vision without hurting anything and in most cases by helping, you’ll make a lot more friends than not.
What was your process for Lovely Molly?
JN: It was different. I came up with an idea — what if a girl who was getting possessed decided to prove it and broke out a video camera. I wrote a treatment. Passed it to Ed…he added stuff…
But somewhere in the process, Ed (co-writer/director of Lovely Molly) began pushing a harder, grittier version. One that had less ‘onscreen scares’ and was more ambiguous. I think I did the first few pages…maybe the first act, then he cranked out the rest. He might’ve got stuck at one point and thrown it my way in the middle. I think I tried to move it forward, and then he rewrote that…
From there on, our roles reversed from past projects and current — usually I do the heavy lifting and he reads, gives notes, punches up things or brings a directorial view to the writing.
On Molly, I was mainly doing dialogue polishes and giving notes and finding connections, but Ed did the heavy lifting.
You and I originally met on the screenwriters forum site, The Writers’ Building — are you still in a writer’s group or contributing to an online writers forum? If so, has your approach to them changed over the years?
JN: Very little except to check in on message boards. My time in writers forums was invaluable. But eventually you out grow it. I still have many of the friends/co-writers/peer reviewers I met there…but now we talk elsewhere or meet face to face or talk on the phone.
I still check in, though. Old habits die hard. And I like helping when I can.
One of the lessons learned there: if you sell the movie too early, you usually have very little say in its distribution. What Molly did was hit the Festival circuit hard … It had a lot of buzz before the sale. That helped.
How much time do you spend on social media? Personally, I’m realizing how much time Facebook can steal from my day, and I see you on there, as well, so maybe you have some tips for finding that balance?
JN: Next question!
If you figure it out, let me know.
Have you found Facebook, Twitter, et al, to be helpful to your career? Do you actively use social media to promote your films or just for fun?
JN: I started to use it solely to promote. Now it’s a small part of my social networking efforts…I do find it’s helpful to network or at the very least keep people on your radar that might drift away. I tend to friend people I work with. Over time they know what I’m up to and I know what they’re up to.
I believe Altered went straight to video/streaming/ppv (please clarify the distribution platforms, if you can), so how did Lovely Molly get a theatrical release and more awareness? Was it the story…budget…distributor deal…? Where will it go after theatrical?
JN: Altered is an interesting story. It was a very successful project up until delivery. Essentially, it was bought in pre-production based on strength of script and production by Universal (Rogue pictures). It was profitable before it was shot. Investors made money. But ultimately, there was a bit of a shift in strategy and execs at the studio and they decided to do one test screening that went “mediocre”… and instead of giving us a chance to address the test… they made the move to go straight to video. It was pretty disappointing. Even worse, it had little if any ads. Like none. I don’t even think they released an official trailer.
One of the lessons learned there: if you sell the movie too early, you usually have very little say in its distribution. What Molly did was hit the Festival circuit hard –namely Midnight Madness at the Toronto International film Fest(Tiff). It had a lot of buzz before the sale. That helped.
It has a limited release but will go to VOD and DVD after its release in August. It also has a rather wide UK release coming up.
How are the digital platforms helping or hindering filmmakers?
JN: I don’t have a great answer for this…it’s still being decided. The digital platforms are taking over…but we’re still in that wild west period where they have completely taken over…ask again in 5 years. I feel like it’s both hurting and opening new doors…but I’ve yet to see those new doors payoff big yet.
Zombie movies, to me, are less scary and more about the post-apocalyptic nature of a world gone to hell. Look at all the different stories Mr. King has milked over the years.
Horror as a genre seems to have the most “subgenres” (slasher, found footage, home invasion, ghost story, exorcism, torture, creature feature). How important are these subgenres to screenwriters, if at all? Does Lovely Molly fall under a certain subgenre; if so, was that intentional?
JN: I don’t really think about sub-genre as I write. But they’re there and they are what makes horror writing fun. For better or worse, I tend to write a lot of creature features…it was good to slip into something else…something that’s aim was purely to creep out and scare.
The coolest thing about it, it allows you to try completely different things. Altered is dramatically different from Molly and is even more dramatically different than the horror-pregnancy-laugh-fest I wrote called Labor Day. Zombie movies — to me — are less scary and more about the post-apocalyptic nature of a world gone to hell. Look at all the different stories Mr. King has milked over the years.
Who do you feel is your audience? How important is writing horror for the core horror audience (still young men?) vs. the mainstream cross-over audience?
JN: Yeah, I tend to think of horror as guys and girls going out on Friday or Saturday night. Molly isn’t that same audience though. And I’ve found it’s probably even more effective to the non-horror loving female audience. Not sure if that’s because of the protag or the soap-opera like backstory behind the creepy/scary/gross-stuff. Or maybe women are just changing. Twilight/true-blood/Buffy…the ladies are digging dark supernatural stuff as much as the guys.
I think you said on FB that you finished 9 scripts last year? Wow. Please give us your secrets to writing so fast (and completing them all)!!
JN: I’ve only written 2 this year! Way behind…here’s something I wrote to a friend who asked the same question –
How to Write 10 Scripts a Year
by Jamie Nash
a) You love to write. You’d do it for free. And the world wouldn’t be right if they took it away.
b) You either have a day job that lets you write everyday or writing is your day job.
c) You’ve put at least 5 years into it (probably 10)…so you’re confident enough in your day to day writing and have a good understanding of what works.
OUTLINES ARE THE REAL WORK — I outline a lot. I find outlining doesn’t take up too much brain processor space. I can do outlines while I’m writing other stuff. And really the outline IMOHO is where the HARD WORK is in writing. Some people don’t outline, but really they do, they just do in 100 pages what I might do in 5. I used to do it that way…and I get why they like it, it allows you to jump into the story before you go cold on what you love about the premise. One side effect of being an outliner, you don’t execute some great ideas because they’ve gone stale in the outlining or you’ve lost your way by over thinking it or becoming bored with the original idea.
ALWAYS WORK ON MULTIPLE THINGS — Right now, I’m actively writing pages for 1 script, bouncing pages on 2 other scripts with writing partners(it’s their turn), outlining another script, and rewriting another one. If you’re working on many things at once you never get stuck. In fact, there’s this weird urge that you’re always being pulled to another project which seemingly gives you more drive on what you’re working on and more momentum on what you’re about to switch over to.
WRITE THE SUCKY DRAFT — If you’re working from an outline you agonized over, I’ve come to realize that the crappy version isn’t much worse than the good version. Maybe 10% worse at most. Easily fixed in round 2. Once I realized that, I also realized I could just as easily burn out about 10-15 pages a day as I could 3-5. Tripling my output and getting me to the rewrite phase faster.
WRITING PARTNERS — I keep multiple writing partners(usually genre specific ones). I love collaborating. It’s fun. I learn more. It keeps me honest. Teaches me stuff. It’s also the way the biz works. Writing with others isn’t something everyone can do…and the process is much much slower than writing by yourself(even though that seems counterintuitive)…I love the fact that at any given time one of my projects is being moved forward(by a writing partner or two) while I might be cranking out a solo-script.
SPECS ARE DISPOSABLE — Don’t try to make your specs ‘perfect’. Make them ‘real good’. But perfect? Even the ‘perfect scripts’ get rewritten. Until a director is attached the script can go any direction, so why waste time trying to make it perfect. I’d prefer to have 5 REALLY GOOD scripts to 1 perfect 1. The Perfect one could be torpedoed by genre or budget or might even get optioned and never made. If you have 5 really good ones you’re in a better strategic position.
UNDIAGNOSED MENTAL ISSUES – I find that when I get an idea I really like…I MUST finish it. Part of this is being beaten to the punch too often, part of it is because of survival needs (I need money!), part of it is to strike while some perceived iron is hot. This is the part I don’t think can be adopted by others, it’s inherent in me. I have a strong drive to keep producing…I actually get anxiety when I’m not working on something. When there’s a really exciting opportunity or concept I’m trying to crack, I find it hard to sleep which drives me to get something done, just so I can exorcise my demons.
WORK ON SOMETHING EVERYDAY — I work every day. Weekends. Christmas. When I’m sick. Etc. The only time I don’t is when I travel. Mainly that’s my best time for out of the box thinking — and often when I come up with my best new ideas.
How important are loglines? What is the logline for Lovely Molly? Have you had to submit it or pitch it for any reason?
JN: I feel concept/pitch is the #1 most overlooked thing by newbie writers. I think you need about 100 very good loglines before you pick your next script to work with. And if you don’t know how to generate 100 loglines in a month or two…that’s your next thing to focus on learning
Molly’s original pitch was What if a girl who thinks she’s falling under demonic possession begins documenting what’s going on with her…to prove it. but that wasn’t so much a logline as much as it was a pitch. And really, that’s not the pitch at all now. There’s a logline out there but I don’t think i wrote it.
It’s impossible to play the spec game without a rep. How do you get one? They find you. You don’t want the rep you beg to take you on. You want the one that sees value in you.
Is it crucial that a horror script/pitch have a BIG hook or shocking “Sixth Sense”-esque reversal? For example, the buzz on “Cabin in the Woods” is that it has a big shocker (no spoilers, haven’t seen it or read it!), and this seems like one of the best ways to build word of mouth. Other films, like “Audition,” were recommended to me by friends because of their big shock endings — how do you feel about this device?
JN: I like them but don’t think they’re crucial in horror. Some of the scariest movies are the simplest and have virtually no twists at all really. There’s something to be said for super simple horror movies that focus on realistic tone and scares that stick with you when you go home.
Do you have reps? Have you found them to be useful? Do you do spec submissions in L.A., outside of Haxan projects?
JN: Yes. Very useful. I submit 2-3 specs a year and the agents are the only way to make that happen. I live on the East Coast…so I treat specs as a way to introduce myself and make new friends.
It’s impossible to play the spec game without a rep. How do you get one? They find you. You don’t want the rep you beg to take you on. You want the one that sees value in you. Managers are more open to read…but the important thing to realize is it’s better to have no rep than a worthless one. The worthless one hinders you.
What’s your take on the state of the Horror genre these days?
JN: As far as studio horror, I like that’s it’s back to basics. It’s focused on scares. It’s focused on being as scary as possible. Though I miss horror-comedy. It’s the toughest subgenre to make money…but for a lot of us horrorphiles…it’s the part of the genre we love most. I’d love a big horror-comedy to bust out. I thought Cabin In The Woods was a step in that direction.
What are your favorite Horror movies?
JN: Evil Dead, Jaws, The Exorcist, Dawn of the Dead, Psycho, American Werewolf In London, Scream, The Silence of the Lambs, Poltergeist…how many can I name?
In a review of Lovely Molly, the critic mentioned The Blair Witch Project — does Molly share any sensibilities there and has Ed’s history with the influential Blair Witch helped or hindered the film in any way?
JN: Some similarities, It uses a mixed-found-footage aesthetic, i.e.,it jumps in and out of found footage and normal footage. The woods plays a role. It has a female protagonist. And there’s lots of creepy/spooky offscreeny stuff. But it is rare we mentioned or referenced Blair Witch in the writing. In fact, some reviewers discuss the opening shot which is a confessional of a crying Molly as a homage…funny thing is, I wrote/came up with that scene, so I don’t even think Ed thought once about that being the case. And I certainly didn’t.
I should mention that Ed returns to found footage for the first time in our upcoming film Exists which was just shot in Austin, Texas and we’re amazingly excited about.
Family scripts (can be) harder to get produced because they usually need a bigger budget… (but) I think they’re the best opportunity to mix genres. Spy Kids is a good example of something that would be hard to pull off for teenagers, but works for kids. And I dig those genre mash-ups.
Do you write to music or video? (I remember, years ago, you said you could write with a movie on TV in the background.)
JN: TV in the background. And my son jumping around and screaming.
Are you a producer on your projects now? Future plans with producing or directing?
JN: I would like to do more and more producing as I go…but it’s still rare. I try to direct/produce something every year. I have a GhostHunters meets Reno 911 webseries over at ParaAbnormal.tv and I directed a few webisodes of a webseries called CLICK that will appear sometime later in 2012.
I’m working on a short right now, a supernatural thriller that I’m writing out of passion, but I’m also wondering about how to use it for my career. Film festivals, using it as a trailer for a feature, etc. Any experience with shorts or shooting trailers to sell a script or film package?
JN: Not really. I’m hoping to do something similar this fall. I have a weird little Dungeons & Dragons type thing I wrote a short for. Don’t really know what to do with it after that, though.
Tell us about your family film, Adventures of a Teenage Dragon Slayer. This was a different market for you — how did the film turn out and will you return to that market? (I see a lot of listings on Inktip for family, faith-based, MOWS, etc. so there must be a demand for them.)
JN: The film came out fun. It’s impressive; the producers took a movie that should have cost $30 million and made it for much much much less without really cutting it from the script. Pretty impressive feat. Also, the movie stars Lea Thompson, which is all sorts of cool since I was in love with her as a teenager. (Note from Dan: Um, I saw Howard the Duck on opening day because of Lea Thompson! She’s basically responsible for me going through puberty. Too much information?) I didn’t get to meet her, though…bummer.
Actually, I write a lot of family scripts and get a lot of work on assignment on them — they’re harder to get produced because they usually need a bigger budget. I think they’re the best opportunity to mix genres. You can’t do a horror comedy…but you can do something more like Goosebumps or Gremlins. Spy Kids is a good example of something that would be hard to pull off for teenagers, but works for kids. And I dig those genre mash-ups.
Right now I have two Family Scripts over on the development slate with Amazon Studios and a couple more I’m working on with various producers.
Thanks Jamie! And everyone, go see Lovely Molly!
Good Luck and Happy Writing,
“A brilliant example of what every aspiring screenwriter needs to know about the art of writing screenplays. Dan has a no-nonsense approach to screenplay analysis that cuts through the bull and delivers the goods. A must read for serious screenwriters.”
-J. Stephen Maunder, writer/director