Screenwriter Brandon Lee: Legend came out of retirement to rep him
In this business it’s not often we hear news that makes us sit up in disbelief. However, Michael Selsman, President of Archer Entertainment Media Communications recently surprised us. Mr. Selsman, who was formerly a personal manager and press agent having represented icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, has come out of retirement to represent Aussie writer Brandon Lee.
Brandon Lee is a screenwriter from the Gold Coast, Australia, often called the Hollywood of Southeast Asia. He has been writing, producing, and directing since his teenage years. His short film Simplicity gained him work experience alongside Ben Nott on Feature Film productions in Australia at the tender age of 17.
In 2016 Brandon wrote two shorts: That Girl and Plastik. That Girl went on to win Best Picture at the Hollywood International Moving Picture Festival while Plastik had success on the horror festival circuit, winning Gold at the Spotlight Horror Awards and the Los Angeles Film Awards.
In 2018 Brandon took over festival director duties at the Get It Made: Short Screenplay Competition for Absurd Hero Productions. During his time at AHP as festival director, Brandon would read and judge over 250 short screenplays a month, ultimately choosing one to be developed and made into a short film.
Brandon also developed AHP’s debut feature The Container, about African immigrants trying to gain passage to Europe through Libya abroad a shipping container.
Since late 2018 Brandon has been collaborating with Driven Equation to develop and write the American adaptation of Bhaagamathie, one of India’s most popular horror films to date, retitled The Wendigo Witch for the U.S. market. In 2019 The Blue Fernanda, a timely drama about illegal immigration, entered pre-production from a screenplay Brandon wrote, to be directed by Jhosimar Vasquez.
Brandon has also written the screenplays for the Argentinian Thriller The Recruit and Peruvian horror Phantoms of Peru, which is about to enter pre-production in South America with producer Jaime Carbajal and The Farm director Hans Stjernsward. Brandon’s last collaboration with director Jhosimar Vasquez was writing the immensely successful short The Scorpion’s Tale, which Jhosimar directed in 2018.
Scorpion’s has travelled the international festival circuit, playing in over fifty film festivals worldwide and winning Best Film at Beyond Earth, Mexico International Film Festival, Worldfest Houston, Heart of England Film Festival and DC Independent Film Festival, to name a few.
Brandon won Best Screenplay for The Scorpion’s Tale at the Moscow Shorts International Short Film Festival. The Scorpion’s Tale found distribution with AT&T Audience Network and can be found on Amazon Prime as well.
We were delighted to sit down with Brandon Lee, the wunderkind himself, and chat films, screenplays and creativity.
Tell us about your history as a filmmaker. How did you start your journey?
My journey started like many when I was a kid. I had always been enthralled by cinema and stories in general and wanted to tell my own. Yet I never had a camera growing up so focused on writing. Making movies can be expensive but writing was and is always cheap! In grade school I would hand write sci-fi and fantasy action novellas into art books and illustrate them too.
Who are your current influences?
For the last five years or so I’ve been really fascinated by Korean films and filmmakers. Especially Bong Joon-Ho and Park Chan-Wook. From a storytelling and visual point of view I think they’ve had the most exciting writers and directors since the mid-2000’s. Very keen to see Parasite later this year.
In terms of working writers it would be, and has been for a while, Charlie Kaufman. “What would Charlie Kaufman do?” is a good mantra to have. I don’t think any other writer has been so inventive with the format of film and screenplays themselves which he demonstrated with ease in Adaptation and Anomalisa.
What 5 TV shows do you think everyone should watch this year?
I’m addicted to Succession, which really came into its own this season paying off a season and a half of world and character building. Recently finished Euphoria and dug its visual voracity.
I finally watched Fleabag this year: incredible. Phoebe Waller-Bridge can do no wrong in my mind. I love anything David Fincher so have to mention Mindhunter as well. What they did with the characters this season and the direction the show is taking at the moment is fascinating.
My guilty pleasure the last few years has been American Crime Story so I’m keen to see their Bill Clinton series next year. The Assassination of Giovanni Versace was a truly excellent character study and piece of television.
Cat or dog?
Both! A cop-out answer but I’m from a family of divorce who had each. You learn to compromise and see the best of the company you have!
What was the one movie you saw that made you want to go into film?
Wild Wild West with Will Smith. He famously said it was the worst career decision he’d ever made choosing to make that over The Matrix. But it certainly inspired me as a five-year-old! So fingers crossed it’s worth something someday.
You’re known as a prolific screenwriter. How does your screenwriting work differ from the other jobs you do in the film industry?
The one major aspect in screenwriting I believe that differs it to other work or jobs in film is the non-specificity of it whilst also being specific! The screenplay is just the bones to a story. The plans for a heist. But not the robbery itself. And if heist movies have taught audiences anything it’s that nothing goes according to plan.
Whilst in other departments you deliver something very specific and usually tangible I’m telling a “specific” story but with enough wiggle room and with the least amount of description so a hundred other people can come and imagine their own movie and add to it.
Sometimes you can’t help yourself with describing something but, keeping in mind screenplays are always present-progressive you have to keep moving the story along and can’t diddle-daddle in prose. I often think of films like a shark: Something has to always be moving, even if the camera is still, or the film will die.
What’s the best screenplay you’ve ever read? How did it inspire you to become a creator?
Network by Paddy Chayefsky. He’s one of the greatest screenwriters who ever lived. This being one of the greatest scripts ever written. Both of these are facts.
The way in which this story unfolds is remarkable. It seems random at first but the true scope of this film’s satire and ideas are presented so effortlessly through the characters. The dialogue is hilarious and witty whilst also accomplishing exposition and so many other things at once.
Finally, Network predicts the future in an extreme, much like The Truman Show did, yet instead of being about voyueristic entertainment and the growth of “big brother” technology, it deals with the corporatization and sensationalizing of the news. That began in earnest in the 1980s, a few years after the film’s release.
Tell us about your career before you found film.
I’ve been working in film on-and-off since I was a late teen but have held some interesting jobs in between: dish pig, bus cleaner, telemarketer, phone operator, nightclub barback, pizza delivery boy and finally a clerk at a video store when I was in high school. The last job was obviously my favourite! Most of the clichéd beginner jobs I’ve crossed off the list.
Where do you find your inspirations?
Everywhere. The news, interviews, conversations, amalgamations of concepts present in other work. I don’t know how or why certain stories that interest me do. But I know more often than not it’s in an attempt to understand an interesting circumstance or situation and to see where it can go unrestrained from it’s logical constraint.
Keep your eyes sharp and ears open. Never know when the next great story will fall into your lap or from where.
What music inspires you to create?
I have two modes: Thinking & Working. Whilst Thinking I’ll jam to my entire music library, which is fairly eclectic: Indie, Alt-Rock, 80’s/90’s/2000’s pop/rock/etc, Electronic, Rap, Hip-Hop, Classical, Jazz & Blues, 50’s doo-wop, Film Scores etc etc.
Once I know the feeling for the story and characters certain songs or genres present themselves and I try to listen to that music when writing the piece it relates to. In an effort to put myself into that head space at a glance from a musical feeling.
In Working mode when I write I work in silence. Can’t have other people’s words infecting me. I tried listening to classical music but kept getting distracted. Reading something whilst music is playing in the background is fine. But writing with music can be a bit much for myself.
Talk us through your creative process.
Well I briefly mentioned my two modes above so that’s a good starting point. I like to dwell and tinker on something for a few weeks at the least. First I’ll break the story into beats on cue cards and tack them on a wall so I can visually see the entire structure of the movie.
From there I focus on characters, their arcs and general themes and ideas. Over the next few weeks I’ll work on it every day, thinking over and over as to who should do what exactly, how they fit in, who they really are.
For me the story comes first with these people acting and reacting in situations and circumstances. The characters do dictate the story but weakly at this point. Then I obsess over figuring them out completely and develop them to fit (or not) into what I think the film is.
After being in Thinking mode for a few weeks I switch to Work mode for a week and sit butt to chair and actually write or type out the piece. I get really impatient and single-minded and like to finish the first draft in as few sittings as possible with the least amount of distractions.
So I’ll get as much caffeine as needed, do all my ritual procrastination (cleaning is a big one for me) until there’s nothing left for me to do but write!
I’ll do 12-20 hour sessions this way, with few true breaks in between, sometimes staying up for a few days on end until I’ve finished whatever it is I’m doing. I don’t recommend this to anyone, just works for me and my brain right now.
What tips do you have for new filmmakers?
Fail and Learn. Steve McQueen said upon winning his Academy Award that he’s “Always a student, never a master” and I love that mentality. There’s always something new to learn or gleam from a variety of resources. Interview, BTS, B-Roll, Making-Of’s and more on youtube, let alone the plethora of content on the Special Features discs on Blu-Rays these days (best reason to buy them to be honest).
Of course there are so many books on every aspect of the craft and business but for writers most importantly is screenplays! imsdb.com is a great resource. Usually around award seasons mainstream and some Indie films have their screenplays released onto other databases.
There’s a store full of movie posters and books tucked away on Hollywood Blvd that I love to visit. You can buy classic scripts printed and gold pin binded for $10 a pop which I sometimes indulge in, even if I can find it online. Nothing better than a hard copy.
What part of filmmaking do you geek out about the most?
The first test screening. With an audience and with friends. You can get so lost in the “job” of it. What made you cry the first time you wrote it, or saw it in the cutting room falls flat on the 100th viewing or reading.
But when you show people who weren’t involved, who have no idea of the story or squabbles in production, and can gleam an honest reaction from. It’s the best. Gets me every time. Perspective is a fascinating and weird thing.
You’re very hands-on with your projects. How hard is it wearing all the hats?
I’ve worn a lot of hats on different projects and sometimes too many at once. But it definitely wears you down and your focus on each individual role. I wouldn’t suggest taking a multi-hyphenated approach to your career unless out of necessity.
Never solo-produce anything you do if you are a writer and or director. Hire people that you trust and most importantly who are better than you at that job. I love to work with people who I feel like are teaching me things!
If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life what would it be?
Bad Boys 2. Ultimate guilty pleasure. One of the best sequels ever. One of the best action movies ever. One of the best car chases ever. The best Michael Bay movie. One of the best Will Smith movies. And the best Martin Lawrence movie ever. These are facts.
What’s your next project?
I’m in between three right now. A psychological Horror-Thriller (first draft not due until December), a romantic-sex-comedy and a biblical epic. We’re figuring out some things contractually and timeline wise which would dictate my direction but I’m kind of keen to tackle the biblical epic.
I’m not religious myself and am interested to see what my personal perspective brings to something rooted in the bible. Also a unique challenge as I’m not well versed in the “good book” and have to brush up on a few things.
Have you worked with mentors in the past? How would you recommend people go about finding them?
I’ve been fortunate to have two mentors over the last couple years I’ve been in Los Angeles. One was through a personal introduction whilst another was from an on set experience. I couldn’t know at the time that both would go on to play larger roles in my career moving forward. But you find someone who has experience and who you have a connection with and then don’t be afraid to ask for advice or help!
My manager Michael Selsman started out as one of my mentors. He had a short cameo in a production I was apart of and when we met he told me it was his second acting role.
His first was on Francis Ford Coppola’s debut feature film. Being a huge Coppola fan I knew it was either his never talked about porno or the B-horror he made for Roger Corman. I assumed it was the horror and asked Michael if he had been in “Dementia 13”. He smiled and we hit it off after that.
What’s been your biggest failure?
Time management. I recently lost a job because I overbooked myself and didn’t respect my own limitations. Be careful of biting off more than you can chew.
What’s your filmmaking mission? Name the most important thing you want viewers to experience when watching your movies.
Unity. Or the idea that we’re all human. Regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. From the Macro sense of nations to the Micro in communities. It’s one of those things that you feel goes without saying but you’d be surprised how often these things that “go without saying” tend to be forgotten. Or that the concept is understood but not the meaning.
I’m mixed race and I grew up between two cultures (Australia & Asia) whilst fascinated with a third (America) and have met a wide gamut of people who are just that at the end of the day. People. Ultimately flawed, as is the human condition, but capable of fantastic things; Especially love for one another.
What’s been your biggest success?
Working in America. Working in Hollywood. Working on AAA Blockbuster Film sets. Sounds cheesy but I’m from a relatively small city in Australia, quite literally half a world away from the entertainment industry capital. It’s been my dream to be a part of the whole song and dance since I was a kid.
One day a year or so ago I woke up in a bad mood because I was behind on a rewrite and I paused to take stock: I was living in Los Angeles and getting paid to write movies. This was my full time job. I had achieved the initial dream from when I was a kid. That moment is my biggest success to date. I have loftier goals I’m not sure I’ll attain but they keep me hungry.
Can we expect to see any episodic television from you anytime soon?
I have two concepts floating around with meetings on the cards. Left field for me but one’s a sit-com and the other a dramedy musical. Fingers crossed it comes to a television or computer screen sooner rather than later!
What’s your five-year plan?
A movie released theatrically a year. Until I can take a breath and be working on things that take more time…
What indie filmmakers should be on our radar?
Lulu Wang’s debut film The Farewell was fantastic and I’m keen to see more of her work in the future. “Indie” is such a broad term now I feel like bigger directors can slide into that category with their personal projects! But I would be interested for Daniels, who directed Swiss Army Man, to make something new. Boots Riley absolutely killed Sorry to Bother You and I would love to see what he does next.
What screenwriters should we look out for?
Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Anything she does you should watch. Noah Hawley is great, especially the Fargo series. I thought Craig Mazin’s work on Chernobyl was fantastic, especially given his filmography! Literally an inspiration. Anything Charlie Kaufman or Aaron Sorkin writes for sure.
What’s your favorite film of all time, and what did you learn from it?
Teeters between Apocalypse Now and The Shawshank Redemption. I saw both in my teens and think about them often. The biggest thing I took away from both is that:
- Narration isn’t always bad or lazy.
- Movies can be both a nightmare and a dream.
Who would compose the soundtrack of your life?
Stelvio Cipriani. He composed a bunch of Italian genre films back in the 60s and 70s. His music has that signature bombastic Italian funky band-orchestra vibe that contains so much life present at that time. Movie music doesn’t need to be subtle and I love how big it feels. “Mary’s Theme” for when I’m in love and “Too Risky a Day for a Regatta” when I’m working on something good for sure.