Writing Outside of LA, My Interview with Bob Saenz

Screen shot 2I had the pleasure of discussing screenwriting with Bob Saenz, a Bay Area local, actor, screenwriter, and all around great guy. In my quest to capture the screenwriting activities of folks in the Bay Area and prove that it can be done without living in Los Angeles, I interviewed Bob about his experience and advice for those of us trying to make our first sell. I am sure you will find his comments useful!
Justin: You have proven that you don’t have to live in Los Angeles to write screenplays. Do you feel this can be attributed to any one aspect of your career/one choice?
Bob: Yes. I don’t want to live there. Easy as that. I love the Bay Area. It’s my home and with skype and email and conference calls and Southwest Airlines at my beck and call, I’ve never had anyone blink twice that I live here instead of LA. Doesn’t mean it will always be that way, but so far so good. I’ve only had to be in LA the next day once and I made the meeting. Oh… I also wrote good scripts that people wanted and where I lived didn’t matter as long as I had those. 

Justin: That is great you have been able to make it work. Like you said, the good script is key! I understand you have acted as well. How much do you feel your acting has helped with your craft as a writer? How much has it helped with the networking to establish yourself as a writer? Did you act only in the Bay area, or did you live in Los Angeles at some point?

Bob: Yes, I started out as an actor. I’m a 20 year SAG/Aftra member. Being on sets has helped me as a writer more than being an actor (I’m not that great an actor anyway), and I’ve been lucky to have been on sets, both film and TV,  with some iconic

directors and actors and kept my mouth shut, for the most part, and my eyes open and gotten an amazing education on how film and TV operate. And yes, the networking I did on set was crucial to my writing getting seen by the right people. I’ve been fortunate to have never sent a query letter to anyone. Most of my acting jobs were here in the Bay Area, but I have been hired to act in LA films and gone there to do it. Fortunately, for the viewing public, I’m not acting much anymore. Too busy with writing jobs, thank you God.

Justin: Haha, I am sure the viewing public misses you! But as someone who has acted and now writes, I completely agree that sometimes writing can be more fulfilling. I understand you have adapted fiction and non-fiction works for the screen. What is the biggest challenge of doing this? I have considered approaching one of my published friends about such an endeavor. Would you advise aspiring writers try this as another way to get their foot in the door?

Bob: It’s a fabulous experience and one that any writer hoping to do this should try at some point. I’ve adapted a non-fiction book, working with the author to make sure I did it justice and adapted a novel without the author’s help. Both times I had to learn to combine events and plot points and characters, add scenes and characters, delete subplots, you name it…. all to make a book fit a two hour viewing window and try to not lose the original material. And if you have the rights to a great book and can turn out a great script based on it, YES… it can be another way through the door. I just optioned the rights to a story that was in the newspapers all over the world last year.


Justin: I look forward to discussing this further, as I have some ideas in mind for books I would like to option from an author I know. It certainly seems a smart way to go. IMDB shows your movie “Help for the Holidays” came out in 2012 and “Extracurricular Activities” is in production. That is very exciting! How many scripts did you write to get to this point? Are you willing to share any particularly interesting adventures you have had along the way?

Bob: Help for the Holidays was a Hallmark Channel Christmas film in 2012. It was the number one rated original film on Hallmark in 2012 and the number 10 rated Hallmark film of all time. It did help that Summer Glau starred in it, but it was an unqualified hit for them. And didn’t hurt me much with them either.

And I just got a director’s cut last week of Cupid’s Bed & Breakfast, the next film I wrote for them. A romantic comedy/drama that’s not as cutesy as the title might make you think. It’s not even on IMDb yet, but will be soon. I am unbelievably happy with the way the film turned out.

I sold them another original script, “The Right Girl”, a romantic comedy that I wrote with my good friend (and great writer) Jeff Willis. We’re doing paid rewrites on it as we speak. It will shoot sometime in the fall. And Extracurricular Activities is scheduled to shoot about the same time. It’s a theatrical film. One that will be released to theaters. Hopefully, a lot of theaters. I’m really happy with the well-known (Oscar nominated) actors involved but can’t say anything public yet about it. It’s being packaged by CAA.

All I can say is that it wasn’t an overnight thing. It’s taken close to 20 years. Lots of rejection and lots of incredible heartbreaking moments when something almost got made but didn’t and lots of fakes and charlatans along the way who prey on new writers (luckily I got good really fast at spotting them),  and through it all I never gave up. I have a couple of dozen scripts and four original pilots all ready to go and ideas on my white board for many more scripts, including two true stories.

And this week, signed a contract to write an episode of a new hour long cable network series for the fall… can’t tell you what it is yet, but will be able to in the near future I think. And… a couple of really good and successful directors who say they have ideas for me when I come up for air.

Justin: That is wonderful! You have accomplished a great amount and I can’t wait to hear more about this cable network series. Congrats! You seem to have a talent for writing movies that are contained, meaning there are no alien’s blowing up the world or massive car chases. Is this part of your strategy? Do you have any words of wisdom to share with aspiring screenwriters regarding this?

Bob: There’s a very good reason for this. Big movies can only be sold to four or five people in the industry. Small films can be sold to a whole lot more. I’ve chosen to go after the better opportunity. I always have a budget in mind before I even start a script, so I know I have to write a great script within those numbers.  It works for me.  Producers can always make something bigger as they develop a script. I’ve found they don’t buy something with the idea of cutting it back. It’s easier to sell a lower budget film. It’s a fact. Oh… I do have a very funny massive car chase in one of my scripts, but then it’s one where I said, “To hell with the budget”. But it’s the only one of my originals with that kind of budget…. all the other ones are a lot smaller.

Justin: Finally, do you have any other advice to other screenwriters in the Bay are that want to get established here without relocating?

Bob: Keep at it. Write. Write. Write. Read good scripts and see how it’s done. Read awful scripts and see how it’s not done. Write. Write. And write. Don’t give up. And when you think you have that one great script… get a manager. Query them with it. My manager, who I got on a referral from a director, has made a world of difference to my career. And it all came from one script I wrote that everyone loves in Hollywood, “Extracurricular Activities”. And I never told people I lived in Northern California before they read it. They never asked and I never told them. Afterward, it didn’t matter. Oh and you need to have money to get back and forth to LA. I go every other month or so for a week at a time. It can be expensive.SONY DSC

There you have it, words of wisdom we can all learn from. I plan on meeting up with Bob in the near future and getting to know him better. He seems like a great guy and even plays in a band called The BSides – check them out if you get a chance, and watch some of his films! It is comforting to know we have folks working outside of Los Angeles.


This interview appeared word for word on Justin’s site,