The Black List Interview: Ruckus and Lane Skye

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For our latest interview, we spoke to Ruckus and Lane Skye whose script RATTLE THE CAGE was recently produced by Image Nation as the Arabic-language film ZINZANA. We talked to them about how the past, present, and future have shaped their journey as writers.
The Past:
What was the first film that had a major impact on your life? 
“E.T. It was the first time I remember having any concept of a film having a cultural impact. I think it’s the only film I saw more than once in the theater when I was still a kid. I had one of those rubber E.T. fingers that lit up when you touched something. To this day I think about E.T. anytime I’m walking through a neighborhood during magic hour.” – Ruckus
“Michael Jackson’s Thriller was the first film that had a major impact on my life. It was scary as hell, Vincent Price’s maniacal laugh is enough to give anyone nightmares, but it was impactful because of the behind the scenes videos they used to promote it. Watching the making of Thriller was the first time I thought about the people who weren’t on screen, the first time that I realized there was such a thing as a filmmaker.” – Lane
Was there a single film that made you want to be a screenwriter? 
“A Few Good Men was the first film where I took notice of how well structured the storytelling was. How each character was unique and had their own arc. I still watch that film four or five times a year.” – Ruckus
How else did the decision to pursue that career evolve? 
“I wanted to be a filmmaker, but didn’t have access to original scripts that I could shoot, so I figured I’d have to write them myself.” – Ruckus
“It was Ruckus who encouraged me to try writing screenplays. I’ve always loved movies and I’ve always loved writing, but it wasn’t until after college that I even dared to think I could do it. Something about it always seemed inaccessible to me.” – Lane
Most writers have to have “day jobs” in order to stay afloat. What was the strangest job you ever had before becoming a writer?
“We once moved to South Florida for a year to sell antique toys on Ebay. It was a strange experience, but we ended up making our first short film while we were there” – Lane

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Go Big (Screen) or Go Home (Video)

I don’t think anyone will deny that we’re at crossroads in film distribution.

The two paths? Traditional theatrical distribution and Video on Demand (VOD). There are lots of ways to approach this topic and already has been considerable back and forth on speculation about what’s going to happen. Broadly speaking, I think there are a few ways people have approached this conversation:

  1. Emotional/Nostalgic – You could flat out say that watching movies is best in a crowded theater on the big screen. The crowd, the sound, the popcorn. This is an experience opinion. It’s about how we feel.
  2. Product Quality – Watching movies at home causes the quality of experience to suffer. We should be watching on the big screen because we’re getting a subpar product by watching on VOD.
  3. Financial Justification – The theatrical experience does still / doesn’t make sense anymore. With the advent of home theater systems that replicate the experience (with additional comforts of being at home) and with ease and cost efficiency of online distribution, people will opt to watch at home and cannibalize traditional moviegoers. Revenues don’t justify costs.

However, I want to approach it not from an all or nothing standpoint, but from a strategy refinement standpoint: I want to look at when it’s demonstrably less risky to opt for a theatrical release instead of a straight-to-VOD release. In order to do this I want to look at films that have done well theatrically in the past, that is, in a financial sense. As we (unavoidably) start to see more films go straight to VOD, these will likely be the only ones competitive enough to justify a theatrical release.

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The Black List Interview: Cameron Johnson

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For our latest interview, we spoke to Cameron Johnson about how the past, present, and future have shaped his journey as a writer.

The Past:

What was the first film that had a major impact on your life?

The first film that had a major impact on my life was Jurassic Park. As a kid, I can’t remember a more fun time at the movies, and was especially enamored of the way in which the film built tension. A weird choice for a black gay guy who writes comedy, I know, but it was my favorite, followed closely by American Beauty.

Was there a single film that made you want to be a screenwriter? How else did the decision to pursue that career evolve?

There wasn’t a single movie that made me want to be a writer, but there was a single TV show – Six Feet Under.  I’ve always been drawn to work walks the line between drama and comedy. After all, most things that happen to use are a little bit funny and a little bit sad, and Six Feet Under hit that blend perfectly. It made me feel like there was a space for that type of storytelling, and that perhaps I could be a part of it.

Most writers have to have “day jobs” in order to stay afloat. What was the strangest job you ever had before becoming a writer?

Craziest? Well, crazy is relative, but for the past five years, I’ve worked as an SAT tutor. The job itself isn’t crazy, but the people – you really haven’t seen crazy until you’ve seen a child throw his mother’s iPhone into the neighbor’s driveway for messing up his chipotle order – redefine crazy.

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A List of Outperforming Stars

Following my post on the general value of star experience, I wanted to look at specific actors to see which stars actually end up in financially successful movies. In order to this, I wanted not to take absolute returns, but compare the additional value that actors bring (either by selection of the film or by being in the films, whatever it may be) above someone who could’ve been similarly cast.

Practically speaking, I looked at the average ROI for films where a similar actor could’ve been cast — based on (1) gender being the same and (2) their age being within 5 years of either side of the actor. In order to qualify, they needed to be billed as a top 3 star in IMDB.

To give you a sense of the peer groups by age and gender, I plotted the average ROI of films with a couple thresholds (any budget, at least $1m budget, at least $5 million budget):

 

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