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Intro: All right, welcome to the successful screenwriter podcast, where we are dedicated to anything and everything screenwriting. Here, we interview successful screenwriters and filmmakers to discover just what it takes to make it in the industry.
Geoffrey: Welcome to the podcast, we have on an awesome guest here with us today. You will recognize this gentleman from great hits such as The Walking Dead and True Blood. We have with us Vincent M. Ward, thank you for being on today!
Vincent: I appreciate you having me, brother, thank you.
Geoffrey: I wanted to reach out to someone like yourself, who’s an actor and a writer, so we can talk about your whole process, what you look for in screenplays, what you like to write about, and mine some nuggets for our listeners today. Before we get in there, I was hoping maybe we could get a little bit about Vincent’s origin story.
Vincent: I’m originally from Dayton, Ohio. I’ve been out here in Los Angeles, California for 20 years now. I consider it home even though my whole family is still back in Ohio. Believe it or not, I have 13 grandkids.
Geoffrey: What?! Oh my goodness!
Vincent: My whole thing is I’m trying to leave a legacy for them.
Geoffrey: You are achieving it, sir.
Vincent: I’m trying, but I always feel like my best is yet to come. I definitely want to be in a position where I can go back home and do celebrity baseball/basketball games to show the community that the people you see on TV are no different than you, they just happen to be on TV.
Geoffrey: That’s a really good point, people on TV are just normal people, but obviously we idolize them.
Vincent: One thing I’ve learned from when I did the movie Ocean’s Eleven, everyday I’d play basketball with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Don Cheadle. I remember George Clooney’s shoe came untied and this guy ran out there to tie George Clooney’s shoe. George Clooney said, “Hey brother, I can tie my own shoe.” I brought that up to say this: a lot of people put celebrities on these big old pedestals, and they don’t want to be on there, they just want to be treated normal. A lot of times, when you do put them on these pedestals, they expect everybody to treat them like that.
Geoffrey: You’re obviously a really grounded person and I respect that. I think that’s wonderful and I find that talent like yourself, that is grounded, really does want to give back to the community and is able to influence the next generation. I have no question you’ll be doing that.
Geoffrey: What I want to discuss with you, let’s work from your actor’s perspective first, what do you look for in a screenplay? Do you look for characters or the writer’s voice? Is there a specific genre you like?
Vincent: I’m going to be honest with you right now, I’m just grateful to be working. I don’t look for any of that because I’m not in that position where I can choose, especially if it’s a major project. If it’s independent or a student film, I can pick and choose from that. But in my mind, when it comes to an independent or student film, I don’t want to feel like I’m too big for them. Because eventually, those people will come up also, and I don’t want them to say, “Remember when you wouldn’t do [my movie]?” If I’m busy, that’s one thing, but I never want to make anyone feel that I think I’m too good for them. I’m grateful is somebody calls and says, “We have something for you. Do you mind? Do you have time?” Because they could pick somebody else, and that thing they ask you to be in could explode to have a cult following.
Geoffrey: I think you’re absolutely right. It’s a safe bet to keep every avenue open. I specify this from a writer’s point of view, you get writers that will only write in one genre because they’re comfortable with it. Then, similar to how an actor gets type casted, the screenwriter gets type casted because they can’t break out of that genre. That’s all they write in, so that’s all they’re comfortable in. I’m like you, I like to work. If I’m going to do a rom-come, I’ll write a rom-com. If you want me to write a thriller, I’ll write that. I’ll flex those muscles. It’s a different muscle, but I’ve got to flex it. As an actor you’ve been in The Walking Dead and other scary stuff, but you also have a ton of credits. You’ve done comedy; you’re a pretty diverse talent.
Vincent: The comedy part, that’s more me and my personality. People love to see me play in the horror stuff where I’m killing somebody, and I know that’s because of my voice and height. But when it comes to the other stuff, that’s who I am. That’s why I love hosting; I created a show called Conventioning; I created a bunch of different travel shows, because you never see anybody who looks like me as the host. I think I’m a mixture of Michael Strahan and Terry Crews, big guys with personalities. I enjoy that more than remembering a script.
Geoffrey: I would say, with Oscar [from The Walking Dead], he was a gentle giant and you brought that to the screen. Even in those moments where they want you to be this killing machine, you still brought some humanity to that character. I thought was absolutely fantastic because it can’t be easy to try and find vulnerability in a character like that.
Vincent: My character was me, in real life. I like to say that just because a person goes to jail or prison, that doesn’t make them a bad person, sometimes they made a huge mistake. That’s how Oscar was, he was in prison for breaking and entering, trying to provide for his family. The difference between me and Oscar, first of all, I’m not going to jail for my family. I don’t give a damn! But I would do whatever I’d have to do to provide.
Geoffrey: I think that makes sense. Just one mistake at the wrong age; we were all there, we were all young. I’ve made some stupid mistakes, but it just takes the one time that can mess up your future forever.
Vincent: It will follow you for the rest of your life. With social media nowadays, they like to find people’s old posts…
Geoffrey: …yeah, from ten years ago.
Vincent: Not even ten, you could’ve been a teenager. Your life could be turned around by now.
Geoffrey: I thank god there was no social media when I was an awkward teen. That’s the benefit of being a Gen-Xer.
Vincent: Right. Some of these old basketball players try to judge some of these newer players, and I’m thinking, if there was social media around back in the day when they were smoking and doing cocaine, drinking beers on the bench, and all that other stuff…
Geoffrey: Crazy stuff. And all kinds of violence, back then. People felt untouchable, back in the day. Social media makes you more accountable. Let’s look at your writing perspective, because I know you’ve been working on some writing. I know you’re a screenwriter/story developer. You’ve got some stuff in the pipe. How do you like to like to develop your stories and what do you like to write?
Vincent: I’ll be honest with you again, I write stuff, I create stuff, but the problem is I don’t see myself as a writer. I leave that to you guys. When I’m writing down stuff, what I’m truly doing is acting out every character. I don’t really know the specifics, but I know what I want to hear, and I know what I want to see. What I end up doing is I give it to somebody like you to look at it and really bring it to life. I know my lane, my lane is acting, but I come up with some really good ideas and projects. It’s like with Conventioning, there’s 14,000 different conventions in the world, first of all. From your clothes to your hair, to your sex, and your makeup; there’s over 14,000 and I’d never seen a host that looks like me, so in my mind, I created something for me. With my horror movies, you really don’t see a black killer, except for Candyman, so I decided to create one that was different from Candyman. Even with my psychological thriller, The Step Daddy, it’s pretty much a remake of The Stepfather, but you never see a black guy play that type of character. That’s when I’m thinking, “try to make something different.” Recently, I’ve been creating something called Little Walter, because you’ve never seen a black Chucky or Annabelle.
Geoffrey: It’s a possessed doll type of movie?
Vincent: Right, but the difference for me is that I don’t want people to feel like it’s a ‘black movie,’ it’s a movie for everybody where the main character just happens to be black.
Geoffrey: There’s a market for that. The casts are getting more diverse, that’s good, and they should. It’s important to have that kind of voice. You like to develop, obviously, you’re looking for originality, which I think is really important because there can be a tendency to do a knock-off/ cookie-cutter stuff and you want to be original with your storytelling. We’re talking to Vincent M. Ward here, he’s spitting original ideas at me, and this is a guy in the business. That tells you right there, let’s find some originality. The Stepfather is really interesting, it reminds me of the old Poison Ivy with the stepdaughter. I think a stepfather could be a terrifying character.
Vincent: We actually shot it.
Geoffrey: Oh, you shot it? Wonderful! So it’s in the can?
Vincent: It’s in the can! What I did first was create the movie script, but the script I created would’ve been too expensive for them to make.
Geoffrey: Well, that’s everybody’s first draft.
Vincent: Right, for an independent movie. So what happened was they ended up getting another writer who used a few things that I had said [in my draft] and made a movie script to fit a much smaller budget. But in my mind [I’m thinking], “what about the script that I wrote?” which to me was a very good script. So I decided to turn it into a book and I have some people looking to make it into a graphic novel, right now.
Geoffrey: I think that’s a great idea. There’s all kinds of marketing, especially around independent films. A lot of indie films that come out now, instead of just shooting a film, they’re also building a brand around the film. You’ll have toys, videogames, and books.
Vincent: That’s where Devereaux comes from. Devereaux can be up there with Michael Myers, Leatherface, and Jason. I can see that and I’m trying to brand it for that.
Geoffrey: So you can get some sequels out of it.
Vincent: Definitely, it’s already designed for three or more [sequels].
Geoffrey: You could have the stepdad version of Maniac Cop.
Vincent: Yeah! And I have a comic book for Devereaux, so I’m planting some seeds and hopefully they’ll grow.
Geoffrey: Yeah, you’re doing it right! So we’ve got originality and finding that niche [covered]. It sounds like you do write the script, but you focus more on a narrative outline. That’s great. For a writer like me, to get a narrative outline is awesome, because I like to know where the narrative goalposts are so I can write towards them. That’s actually a boon for whoever you’re working with. The worst thing you can have is when you have a client come in who says, “I’ve got this idea,” and you’re thinking ‘oh god.’ Tell me where I’m going or having a 40-page treatment is great because then we know where to go with it. I see you looking for originality, where are you coming up with the ideas? What’s inspiring you? Do you wake up in the middle of the night?
Vincent: I dream about it.
Geoffrey: Do you really?!
Vincent: I dream about it. Just recently, [the house] where I moved, a guy up the street died in his house. When he died, they found all these cats in his house.
Geoffrey: No way!
Vincent: It was like 100 cats. This was before I got over here. They had people come clear all these cats out. One night, I’m sleeping, and I just start dreaming about all these cats. I start dreaming about this freaking pandemic and the next day [I had the idea]. When I sleep, it’s like I’m watching a movie; I can see it and I can hear the words clearly. The next day, I get up and start working on writing Pandemic Cats, like Sharknado and Zombeavers. It’s like I was watching the movie while I’m asleep and I’m laughing the whole time.
Geoffrey: Do you keep a notepad next to the bed or do you just remember it?
Vincent: I just remember it.
Geoffrey: That’s awesome, I love it. That sounds like divine inspiration beaming down right there for you to write an indie creature feature with cats.
Vincent: I also thought about that when I started filming Big Freaking Rat. They just sold this movie for big money!
Geoffrey: That’s awesome, because there is a niche for that, like Snakes on a Plane. It goes back to films like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, where you have these outlandish creatures, but people want to see it, they want to sit back and be entertained.
Vincent: I went to a premiere a few years ago; this place was jampacked with paparazzi, a red carpet, and everything; and it was for Zombeavers! I was thinking, “What?! All these people are here for this?!” But guess what, it was an awesome movie!
Geoffrey: If you’re writing a good script about characters and you’ve got something to say with your script, it doesn’t matter if it’s about a giant zombie beaver or a COVID cat.
Vincent: Who would’ve thought Sharknado would have a Part 4? I would’ve never thought that.
Geoffrey: It’s insane, but they’re lampooning themselves now, that’s the crazy thing. It’s become its own Sharknado bubble, where I don’t even get half of this stuff anymore.
Vincent: Me either. I saw this one the other day called Sharktopus. Like, come on! It was half-shark and half-octopus.
Geoffrey: In scripts, you’re drawn towards whatever grabs you, it sounds like.
Vincent: Yeah, pretty much. Of course, my goal is to be on somebody’s series/sitcom for more than seven episodes.
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Vincent: I want to be on there from the beginning to the end, that’s the goal. It doesn’t matter which genre it’s in.
Geoffrey: Let me ask you this because that makes a lot of sense. You love to work, and you want to see a story go from birth to end, where it can have that conclusion to a total arc.
Vincent: I want to feel like I’m really part of the team, let’s put it that way. When you’re a guest star, you’re there and then you’re gone. I want to be in the commercials and on the billboards, from season one to season ten, that’s the goal for me.
Geoffrey: I want to see that happen, sir. Let me ask you about Oscar. I don’t want to fanboy on you here, but with Oscar you were there from inception to his tragic end. Did you know he was going to have a seven-episode arc?
Vincent: They tell you, but you hope for more.
Geoffrey: Of course.
Vincent: It’s like the character T-Dog, I think he was only supposed to do three episodes and he did three and a half years. As time went on, I thought I did enough to come back and be on there longer.
Geoffrey: I bet it was pretty tough to go through that process. That’s got to be pretty hard.
Vincent: Yeah, getting killed off, it sucks!
Geoffrey: Not just because you’re looking for work but because you’ve put so much into that character.
Vincent: Most definitely. The cast and crew were so nice. When you’re surrounded by nice people with no egos, you want to be around as long as possible. Especially when it’s a great show that’s so popular. I didn’t even know it was that popular, to be honest with you, I had never even heard of it. I don’t put one project above another; I go in and try to give 100% on whatever project it is.
Geoffrey: You’re fully committed. I interviewed Kevin Sorbo a few weeks ago, same type of dedication you’re describing. He comes in, gives 100%, and delivers. After that, whether the project takes off, he knows he did it. I think that’s the same with you. You’re a professional, sir, and I respect that.
Vincent: You want to leave a [good impression]. Some of those directors go onto the next show and hopefully they will remember you.
Geoffrey: It is a relationship business, isn’t it? When you were first breaking in, were there connections that brought you there?
Vincent: I didn’t know anybody. I had moved here from Ohio. The way I got my second big role, I’ll tell you how and why.
Geoffrey: I want to hear it.
Vincent: It’s funny. I did the movie Traffic, with Michael Douglas and Catherine Zete-Jones, while I was still living in Ohio. When it was time to move here, I had moved to California right when it was time for the premiere of Traffic. I go to the premiere, me and my parents had already told everybody to check me out, it was my first my first big thing. My parents were so proud, “my baby with Michael Douglas!” Because my scene was with Michael Douglas. The scene takes place where Michael Douglas is driving through the neighborhood looking for his daughter. I play a drug dealer type of bad boy. Michael Douglas is in his car and I stop him and get in his face; my character is called The Face; I’m asking him, “what are you doing in my hood?” and I’m all up in his face, then he takes off. I’m at the premiere, I’m sitting there, and my heart is thumping out of my chest. Here we go. It takes a while for them to edit it and put it all together.
Geoffrey: Oh yeah, a couple years.
Vincent: It had been about a year. Then [in the scene] he drives right past me. I am devastated. I’m sitting there, damn near about to cry. But for some reason they kept me in the credits, so I still get residuals, but I didn’t care about that. What I cared about was people thought I was lying. The credits role and I see my name as “Guy on the Street.”
Geoffrey: Oh no!
Vincent: I go to Steven Soderbergh afterwards and I say, “Hey man, why did you cut my part out?!” I didn’t know any better, I’m just hurt, and was just [shocked] and started looking around for security. He said, “Well Vince, we had to pay Michael upfront, we went over budget, so we had to cut some scenes out. That’s just how it is.” I start to walk away, but he stops me and writes down his secretary’s number. This was back when people actually wrote down their number. He said, “Give my secretary a call, I’m working on a new movie and I have a part for you.” And that movie was Ocean’s Eleven.
Geoffrey: That’s so nice. Breaking into the industry is–
Vincent: –it’s tough. I figured, since I did Traffic and a lot of stuff around Ohio, I was going to come here and BOOM it was just going to work.
Geoffrey: You thought you’d be a big fish.
Vincent: Nah, it doesn’t work like that. You must have patience, faith, and tough skin. You have to be ready so you don’t have to get ready. You have to have your stuff together. Most importantly, you have to be professional. All that being late and having egos, leave that at the door. Whatever you did somewhere else, it doesn’t matter.
Geoffrey: Everything you just said can be said for a screenwriter. All of it, whether you’re a screenwriter, filmmaker, or talent. All of those things definitely need to be had. You can’t just go there and expect it to happen, you’ve got to put in your sweat equity. You’re 100% right.
Vincent: With social media too, it can influence some casting directors. Just because a person can put out funny videos and they have millions of followers, that doesn’t mean they’ll do the same thing once you put a script in front of them. It doesn’t mean those millions of followers are going to follow them to see what they’re doing. It takes talent. Anybody can make a video and just act silly, and people will follow you. That’s why I’ve lost respect for the word ‘celebrity’ because you could be on a reality show cussing people out and fighting, or be on social media with millions of followers for just being silly or twerking or whatever, and you’re considered a celebrity? That takes no talent. I’m not knocking the next person, but that’s not talent if you just twerk or show your body and have millions of followers who call you a celebrity.
Geoffrey: But there’s a weight that comes with it. If somebody is called a celebrity, there’s an implied influence that they have over people. If you’re saying craziness or you’re being a role model that isn’t very good/moral, young people are seeing that and are easily influenced by that.
Vincent: I understand the word ‘influencer’ because you can influence people to think they can do the same thing you’re doing and become rich and famous. But when that 15 minutes is up, what are you going to do?
Geoffrey: Exactly, there’s more to it. There’s more to life. Who are you helping? I agree with you 100%. I know you’ve got your hands in a lot of pots, I’m a little bit the same, I’ve got my hands everywhere. You have a wine, right?
Vincent: Yes, I’ve always wanted to be like Billy Dee Williams, back when he made Colt 45, or The Most Interesting Man with Dos Equis. I wanted to be that spokesperson for somebody’s [brand]. It didn’t have to be liquor; it could’ve been anything. With The Most Interesting Man, he was so smooth and debonair.
Geoffrey: They’re awesome commercials.
Vincent: I kept trying to pitch myself to all these different brands, but nobody would bite, so I decided, “forget this crap, I’ll create my own!” What happened was my wife and I were going to this winery called Bel Vino in Temecula. I loved Bel Vino and I wanted to be their spokesperson. I started doing stuff for them, but then I thought, “why am I doing this for them? I’m going to approach them to help me build my own [brand].” And that’s what we did.
Geoffrey: What’s it called.
Vincent: It’s called ‘Ward,’ like my name.
Geoffrey: I look forward to seeing a Ward commercial with you being smooth.
Vincent: We’re just trying to make it work. The wine is excellent, it comes from Bel Vino, and I would never put my name on something that I didn’t believe in. I’m not gonna be Shaq at 72 in a little-bitty car telling you to buy car insurance.
Geoffrey: That was a funny one, too. You’ve got Big Freaking Rat coming out, which sounds wild. I don’t want to admit to this, but I did check out your credits. You’ve got so many IMDb credits, you’re one of the hardest working actors I’ve ever seen. You’ve got a lot of stuff coming out. What else do you have coming out?
Vincent: There’s so much stuff. Honestly, once I’m finished, I just move on and see what I can do next.
Geoffrey: Yes, stay busy.
Vincent: Even with The Walking Dead, I could never move away from it because it’s still a popular show and it’s still going on. I feel grateful because people truly like my character. Some people think that’s where I started, but I’ve been around for a while.
Geoffrey: You don’t feel like you’re being type casted, are you? You’ve been around awhile.
Vincent: No. Let me tell you this though, brother, even if I was being type casted, bills still gotta get paid. “You wanna play Oscar again? Alright, here I go! I’ll play Oscar on another show!”
Geoffrey: If anything, I think screenwriters can walk away from this knowing that it’s just important to keep working. Don’t get too satisfied, keep it going. I have 80-hour work weeks.
Vincent: You know what else? You can get down on yourself. You start questioning yourself. Trust me, you start looking at what other people are doing; but just because someone is doing something right now, that doesn’t mean their happy or that your time isn’t coming. I always say you have to have faith and be patient. Yes, I love the character Oscar, but my goal is to someday win an Oscar.
Geoffrey: There it is.
Vincent: That’s the goal. You have to set your goals and your standards high.
Geoffrey: You need a support structure; you can’t alienate people on this. If you’re sitting there worrying about how everybody else is doing and you’re not looking at your own path, your focus is way off. You’re almost guaranteeing that you’re not going to make it. You’ve got to have your eye on the ball.
Vincent: I know some people on TV right now and they’re miserable. I know someone on [TV] and they can’t even pay their rent/mortgage, so they have roommates. I don’t want that; I want to be happy. If I have to wait till I’m 53 or 60, where I’m happy and stable, then that’s what it is. I feel like maybe if I had been blessed with success early in life, I might have messed it up.
Geoffrey: It’s crazy that you say that because I’m thinking the same thing. I came into screenwriting late; I missed my twenties, it didn’t happen then, and I came into it in my early thirties where I really started going for it. I realized this is my passion and my love. I kept thinking, man if only I had not been stupid in my twenties. But I think you’re right. I think back then I would have blown it, there’s no way I wouldn’t have.
Vincent: Some people blow it because they have sex addiction, or because of weed and alcohol.
Geoffrey: Yeah, or because they’re just not sure or ready. Now, being forty-one, I know this is where I need to be. I have the maturity to be able to focus, get through it, and be professional.
Vincent: Let me tell you one more thing. When I was thirty, I was sad. I remember crying when I turned thirty because of where I was in life, what I was doing, and how I wasn’t focused. But when I turned forty, I was so happy and I’ll be fifty in a couple months, so I’ll be even happier.
Geoffrey: At fifty, you look incredible, you’re going strong. I know fifty-year-olds whose bodies are breaking down. Although I look at people my age, because I always feel I could be in better shape, but then I look at people my age and realize I’m not doing too bad.
Vincent: Right! It’s like, what happened?
Geoffrey: I got all my teeth, I’m doing alright.
Vincent: My mind is clear. But something you said about the love and passion, when you have love and passion for something, there’s nothing like it. You can take 100 No’s to get that one Yes because you love it so much. Sometimes, we get in our own heads and think, “I’m quitting, I’m done with this!” But what else are you going to do? You can’t see yourself doing something else.
Geoffrey: You get to a level where, when you’re going through the downtimes where you’re really down and everyone says, ‘that’s rough,’ eventually when you’re able to get past that, the successes start building on themselves and that starts fueling you. I’m now putting in a ton of hours and I’m busy all day long but I’m not tired. I don’t know what’s going on, I hope I don’t have a chemical imbalance, but I’m feeling strong.
Vincent: But if you were at this factory working over here, you’d be fired after the first half [of the day]. Now that you’re doing something you love, you can do it all day long.
Geoffrey: You’re 100% right. Vincent, thank you for coming on today. I really appreciate you being with us.
Vincent: I appreciate you having me, brother, any time.
Geoffrey: Alright, you have a good one.
Vincent: You too. Peace.
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