Spec Spotlight: Jared Cohn talks Lynyrd Skynyrd Biopic
In October 1977, the rock-n-roll world was shaken when the plane carrying band members of Lynyrd Skynyrd crashed in Mississippi. The tragic event killed three original band members as well as severly injuring the surviving band member Gary Rossington. Nearly 40 years later, the incident as relived by Artimus Pyle is heading into production with Cleopatra Records slated as the production company. Jared Cohn joined forces with Pyle to create the script for Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash. Cohn is set to direct the biopic and Sean McNabb from Sons of Anarchy is set to co-star in the film.
Cohn is known for his writing and directing work like #HoldYourBreath and 12/12/12. He is a graduate of New York Institute of Technology. He is excited for the upcoming opportunity and shared his journey in the entertainment industry so far.
Roe Moore: How did you get started in the industry?
Jared Cohn: I came out to Los Angeles almost 15 years ago. When I made the decision shortly after high school to come out to LA – I’m from New York – I went with no plan B. I’m just gonna go for it. Originally, I wanted to be an actor. But I started writing right away. I was reading scripts, studying scripts, and practicing monologues. I very quickly started writing my own scripts. And then, as an actor, I booked a few independent movies. Luckily, I booked a movie by The Asylum – Sharknado. I got to know the producers and I handed them one of my scripts. A few months later, one of the partners at The Asylum called me and said, “I read your script and I love it. What do you want to do? Do you want to play the lead?” I had originally written it for me to play the lead. But he then said, “Or do you want to direct it? Have you directed anything before?” And at that time, I had directed one movie. I took out all my life savings to make this very small low budget horror movie. And that turned out to be Born Bad which premiered on Lifetime. That led to other opportunities. I’ve now directed ten movies for The Asylum. I love those guys.
RM: How did you get involved with the Lynyrd Skynyrd project?
JC: I did some movies with producer David Sterling. He introduced me to Brian Corerra at Cleopatra Records and Entertainment. They’re a big music label, been in business since 1992 and were looking to get into film. I wrote Devil’s Domain and Halloween Hell House with them. They have Artimus Pyle who’s from the original Lynyrd Skynyrd who really wanted to do a movie about the plane crash. Corerra approached me asking if I would be interested and I said, “Hell yeah!” They flew Artimus out and I spent several days interviewing him, taking notes and more, to get the story out of him. It was very emotional for him to relive the events. He went back to North Carolina, but I got to be on the phone with him for many, many hours tweaking the script. It was definitely a process to get the script right and dive into the Lynyrd Skynyrd world watching every documentary, every interview, and listening to all the music. It’s been a very exciting script to write. It’s funny because the production staff is asking if the script is locked and I’m like, “Yeah, yeah. I’m just making some tweaks,” because as I’m listening to all this stuff and I’m like, “Oh, that’s cool. Let me put that in,” or “Oh, I didn’t know that happened, let me add that.”
RM: Have there been any challenges to writing the script?
JC: There’s different takes on what exactly happened. One guy will say this happened, the other guy will say this happened. But if it contradicts to what Artimus says, I’ll always take Artimus’ side because this is his story. It’s told through his point of view. We have his life rights and when he watches the movie, I don’t want him to be like, “Well, that didn’t happen.”
RM: That is something you should be conscious of when you take on somebody’s story.
JC: I definitely want to do him right and make sure he’s happy. He’s actually flying out for the table read and coming back out because he’s gonna be in the movie. At the very end, we have the actor playing Artimus morph into the modern day Artimus with his band, The Artimus Pyle Band as sort of a tribute to Skynyrd. We’re going to feature that and his band.
RM: What has this transition from working in the horror genre been like for you?
JC: I’m so grateful to have this opportunity. I was definitely familiar with their hits before getting involved. I became a much bigger fan as I got to know the story and the music: the lives they lived, the things they did, what went on. It is beyond what I would’ve imagined going into. There’s so much rock’n’roll.
RM: What brought you to becoming a screenwriter?
JC: I wasn’t getting audition after audition. So you have a lot of free time. I was working a lot of side jobs, but I still had a lot of time. I was pushing my acting, but it wasn’t enough. So I was like, “You know what? I’m just gonna write.” And once I started writing, I was writing script, after script, after script, after script. And after each script, I thought I had Laurence of Arabia but then, I look back at some of those scripts and go, “This is terrible.” I’ve written almost 30 scripts at this point; which is not that many. I talked to some other sole writers who have written 75 to 100 scripts. And I’m like, “Oh, and I thought I was writing a lot!” I think you get better with every script. Some people do have the great fortune of writing an amazing script as their first script, but that wasn’t me. I certainly had a learning curve. I was reading the books by Robert Mckee and Syd Field to get the structure. In film school, I took screenwriting class. Everyone has their own path and learning curve and writing style. That developed as I wrote more. After I wrote the Lifetime movie, I was like, “Oh, well, maybe this is my thing and producers are calling me for Lifetime scripts.” So, I kind of take cues from what I hear.
RM: How did you pursue writing initially?
JC: I was doing a lot of work on spec or writing it for option. I did a lot of things for no money or hopefully they’ll get made type of things. Like every new writer trying to get going. I’m still writing on spec. The things I’m writing on spec are more ‘reach for the stars’ type things.
RM: What has made you stand out?
JC: I attribute it to hard work, continually writing, and luck. But what is luck? Is it hard work and throwing your stuff out there? I went through that period where you’re on IMDbPro and you’re emailing whoever producer, agents, and whatnot. That has not proved to work out. I went to many pitch fests, I had my scripts on InkTip.
RM: What’s something that’s unique to you?
JC: I love audio books. I can just sit there and close my eyes and listen to the words. The book I’m listening to from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s tour manager, Ron Ackerman, he’s the one that’s doing the actual narrating.
RM: What would be your advice to someone who’s starting out?
JC: Everyone’s got that script that’s their life story about being a writer. Write that script, throw it out. Write another script, throw it out – unless it’s good. Write that script and send it out to Coverage Inc. or the Black List. 99% of the time, if it’s your first script, they’ll say this is terrible. But maybe not! Maybe you’re that lucky person who writes their first script and it becomes a hit. Get coverage; they’ll tear it apart. And keep writing. Write every day. Seven days a week. Go to the pitch fests, meet people and stay in touch with those people. And one thing: move to LA. There’s that book, How to Write Movies for Fun” with fun cropped out. Literally one of the first few pages was “You need to move to LA.” I would say it’s more important to read the scripts that are hit movies now than the classic scripts. The older movies that won Oscars in the 60s and 70s, they wouldn’t get made today. The quality and the styles have gone up so much. If you want to stand out, your work has to be amazing and make your readers cry. It’s that level where you have to compete.
Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash goes into production April 24th, 2017. Cohn currently works as the head of development at Cleopatra Records.
Script Supervisor / Screenwriter
Originally from Aurora, CO, Roe Moore is a script supervisor, screenwriter, and emerging director based in Los Angeles, CA. She has worked on commercials, film, and television shows. Her favorite number is 2 and she loves dachshunds. More can be found on her website: www.RoeMoore.com.