SPS-368: Indie Storytelling: Writing Books & Movies – with Dominika Best
Dominika Best does it all. She writes crime thrillers, paranormal romances, and cozy mystery romances. She runs a true crime podcast, has over a decade of experience working in Hollywood in VFX, and shares her secrets as an indie storyteller that spans mediums, genres, and years of success.
- What storytellers can learn from how productions work in Hollywood
- The history that inspires Dominika’s books
- How Dominika’s time in Hollywood influenced her writing process
- How Dominika is making a full-length feature on a budget
- Content marketing for books with podcasts
Resources mentioned in this episode:
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MARK’S THREADS: Follow Mark on Twitter @pbackwriter for exclusive publishing insights.
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Check out our new 2022 hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.
SPS-368: Indie Storytelling: Writing Books & Movies - with Dominika Best
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Dominika Best: I've seen some things and my family has gone through quite a bit. People are like, "God, you're so morbid." I'm like, "Well, yeah, but this is the other part of life. This does happen." Good people can do really terrible things.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author, James Blatch, as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It's The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson. As we record this, it's a Friday and I've just opened the first beer of the weekend.
James Blatch: It's on the source already. I'm going out tonight, but I've got a lot of editing to do between now and then. I think you prefer me to edit sober, don't you?
Mark Dawson: It's probably best. Yes.
James Blatch: That's what Hemingway said, didn't it? He said...
Mark Dawson: Edit drunk.
James Blatch: No.
Mark Dawson: Write drunk, edit sober.
James Blatch: Write drunk, edit sober.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Edit drunk, give it to Mark who's sober.
James Blatch: Yes. Yeah. I'm in full writing mode at the moment. Started book four, my new espionage, Cold War espionage of a slight pivot in my writing. A new series, new character, female lead. Is that risky?
Mark Dawson: No, not really. No, I don't think so.
James Blatch: Hollywood will like it.
Mark Dawson: Well, weirdly, I was just writing about this in my newsletter. I got an email from Hollywood last night. A really, really, really well known studio. Really, really, really well known and saying, "Are the writers available for the Beatrix books?" I had to say-
James Blatch: They're not.
Mark Dawson: No, they're not, which is fine. The people I work with are really great as well, but it's nice to know that it's being passed around the right places.
James Blatch: Yeah. It's good. Anyway, yes. I'm 6,500, 7,000 words in. It always starts with me... My friend Boo Walker struggles with the first page. I think Hemingway famously did, he called it... What did he call it? The White Bull.
Mark Dawson: He'll like that.
James Blatch: He's very Hemingway-esque. I dive into it. Love it. Absolutely love the beginning bit and then get 7,000 words in. I think this is all rubbish.
Mark Dawson: That's very standard.
James Blatch: I came back, but I'm enjoying it and I'm loving getting into MI6 and MI5. I love doing all the research of where they were based in 1970 and what things they were doing and equipment. Thank God for the internet to do all of that. Also, watching Slow Horses, is it?
Mark Dawson: Yup. Yeah.
James Blatch: Which weirdly seems like it's set in the '70s or '80s, but actually it's modern day. Is it Mark? What's his name, the one who wrote the books?
Mark Dawson: Mick Herron.
James Blatch: Mick Herron. If you haven't read Slow Horses, it's a series actually of a splinter part of MI5, which is where you go to die, the Siberia bit of MI5 and it's called Slough House, all invented. But that's quite clever because it's almost like writing a little period spy thriller because spy today is all electronic and modern and all the rest of it, but he's got this old fashioned. It's a very clever way of writing it. I've only just started the series, so we'll see how it works out. But I did share an aircraft with Gary Oldman once, so I do consider him a friend. He touched my shoulders. He walked past.
Mark Dawson: Yes, that's right. No, I remember that one. I shared no floor with Will Smith.
James Blatch: You do. You're lucky you didn't get slapped.
Mark Dawson: Oh, and he's lucky I didn't give him COVID given I was contagious just at the time.
James Blatch: I shouldn't joke about violence. Still, I've forgiven him. Okay. All right. Let's talk about a couple of things. First of all, Ads for Authors, which is the course which has enabled me to sell up my books and make a profit, is open for enrollment, open for a couple of weeks. You can go to selfpublishingformula.com/adsforauthors. You'll read everything that's in the course on that page. If you have any questions about it, ask in the group, ask me or Mark or anyone else or John or Tom.
Mark Dawson: You can ask John.
James Blatch: I'd love to see you in there, taking part in that course. It's our flagship course and I know. I am the test of that and I run ads and make money. I think I can say this publicly. We turned over about a quarter-
Mark Dawson: Yeah, we said it. Yes.
James Blatch: Yeah. About a quarter of a million pounds for Fuse Books last year, which is from a standing start is very good.
Mark Dawson: There's about four authors.
James Blatch: Three actually at the moment. So, we've vacillated a bit. We have three. I think probably we could also say at this stage that we are in the market for another author. I hesitate to say this because we do get inundated, but I think we are going to start romance this year. But that's already enhanced. So, we're not asking for romance submissions. But Kerry Donovan's books have done very well. So, have a look at Kerry J. Donovan's Ryan Kaine series if you think your series is aligned with that. It's a simple thing for us.
Mark Dawson: All mine basically.
James Blatch: All mine or John Milton. Yeah, Lee Child type esque books. Yeah, get in touch. You can email us at [email protected], fuse-books.com, not fusebooks.com, [email protected]. Let us know about your series. How many books are out? We're looking for somebody who has probably four, five books at the moment. I mean four's probably absolute minimum. Six or seven would be ideal. Basically, Mark, what do we say about this? We say somebody who's given up the ghost that just doesn't want to do their own marketing, because the number one thing Mark and I will always say to anyone who comes to us is really, it's best you market this yourself because that's what we're advocates for. But we do understand it's not for everyone.
You might have a series that you just don't want to work on personally from a marketing point of view and work on something else, whatever. If you've got a good reason on that background, we will quiz you about that. You think you'd be interested in a profit split deal with us, then drop us a line. Yeah, I have been looking at the charts. There's a few names I recognise who are doing quite well. Whether any of them will get in touch, I suppose I could proactively go to them. So, that's what publishers do, isn't it, send emails?
Mark Dawson: If they're doing well, I wouldn't recommend they do.
James Blatch: Well, that's exactly what I thought.
Mark Dawson: We will turn people down if we don't think we can do better than they can. So, we will turn them down if we don't think we can do double what they can do.
James Blatch: That's no point.
Mark Dawson: Because otherwise, there isn't any points. So, no, we are really strict about that, but it's for very good reason. We don't want anyone to be disappointed that they're not quite what they thought it would be. Yeah, but no, feel free to drop us the line if you've got something that you think might be of interest. We'll definitely take a look at it.
James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. So, I think we can probably move on to our interview, which is with Dominika Best. So, John, Tom, and I met Dominika in Florida. I don't know if you met her actually, Mark. I think you were with us at the time.
Mark Dawson: Just going to say, I may have been zoning out at that point, but did we give the URL for the Ads for Authors course? I don't think we did.
James Blatch: We did.
Mark Dawson: Did we?
James Blatch: We did, but I can give it again.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, please do, because I'm the avatar here and it passed me by. I may have been doing the washing up, but yeah, go on.
James Blatch: selfpublishingformula.com/adsforauthors. Actually, it's a good page to go to find out everything about the course, open for a couple more weeks. Come and join us and get going on your author career. Now let me go back to Dominika Best. So, we interviewed Dominika. She actually is an alumni of Ads for Authors. Absolutely loves it. Happy to sit down and do a video for us about the course, but we got chatting to her because she's worked in Hollywood. We're talking about Hollywood today in visual effects, VFX.
Really fascinating to talk to her about that. If you're even slightly geeky about the way they make Hollywood films, it's a good chat, but of course, we also talked about novel writing. She's moving into novel writing and storytelling. This is somebody who's worked with some of the great storytellers in Hollywood and is using that in her own novels. Really good interview. So, let's hear from Dominika and then Mark and I will be back for a chat.
Speaker 1: This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Dominika Best, welcome to The Self-Publishing Show. Nice to have you here. We're going to be talking Hollywood, films, and your writing, which I'm quite excited about you now.
First of all, people are watching on YouTube rather than just listening. You are in a... It looks like a sound booth or is it a shed?
Dominika Best: Well, no, it's my own sound booth because I actually launched the podcast about a month ago. So, this is my podcast setup.
James Blatch: Sounds nice. No reverb, whatever they call it, that echoes around, but very good. Okay, Dominika, why don't you start off by just introducing yourself a little bit to the audience.
Dominika Best: Okay. Well, my name is Dominika Best and I write under three pen names. My main pen name is under Dominika Best and I write crime thrillers. I also write cosy mystery paranormal, and I have a paranormal romance name under Nika Grey. I have been published actually since 2012, although those early books are no longer on Amazon. Before then and I guess still I'm a screenwriter as well as a director and I'm a former visual effects artist that has worked on a bunch of really big Hollywood films.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, if you don't mind us, just start with a little bit of the Hollywood stuff because it's always exciting. We met in Florida. Was it Florida or Vegas? It was Florida.
Dominika Best: No, it was Florida. It was Florida.
James Blatch: I don't know if you'd be able to tell all the stories you told us, but there were quite a few engulfing big names in Hollywood, but nonetheless. VFX, I mean, it's one of those things with films now. I guess you do get the odd film that has almost none in it, but quite a few films.
Dominika Best: Yeah, I think everything at this point has some green screen on it.
James Blatch: These Marvel films, there must be almost nothing filmed and then two years of creating it in a computer afterwards. Is that a fair assessment?
Dominika Best: I mean, yes. For example, the last film that I worked on was the Ang Lee film that we actually won an Oscar for while my company Rhythm & Hues was going bankrupt. So, I was actually out picketing the Oscars as-
James Blatch: Oh, my goodness.
Dominika Best: ... that was happening.
James Blatch: Bizarre. That's Life of Pie, was it?
Dominika Best: Yeah, it was the Life of Pie. Literally, the only thing that was live action in that film outside of those first India shots was the boat and the kid. That's it. Everything else was replaced. So, it was funny when the cinematographer won an Oscar for that, because it was like, "What did you exactly light?" So that was one of those very strange things. But yeah, most of Marvel, if you look, you have the actors on a stage and then everything else is green screen. Although now there are these new screens that are...
I think the new Star Wars shows have been shot this way, where you have the actors there and they're around this dome stage that has essentially the visuals projected onto it. So, there's no longer compositing where you have just a green screen and you are acting on a green screen with a ball. You actually have the background behind you that can help you with that. I know that they used that about five, six years ago and it was still a little funky. So, they had to still rotoscope a lot of that, but now it's a brand new process that you have the visuals as the actors in front.
James Blatch: Is this to help the actors with their performance or is there a technical advantage to it?
Dominika Best: Well, I'm sure it's a technical thing too, because I mean, imagine all the rotoscope you have to have for each shot. So, now if you're not having to rotoscope, then you don't have to do as hardcore compositing. Now, I haven't been in visual effects since 2012, but I'm getting back into directing now. So, I'm seeing what's possible. There's a lot of really new technology to help the amount of people that you have to hire on a project. I know that visual effects artists are having a really rough time right now with Marvel because their deadlines are hard. Also, as we talked about in Florida, nobody knows anything. Most directors don't know what they want until they see it, which is horrifying.
James Blatch: Right, really difficult.
Dominika Best: You're on a deadline and you're having to redo all of these shots over and over again, but there is a lot of new technology to help speed the process. There's a lot of AI talk right now, and a lot of visual effects artists and directors are like, "Oh, my God. This could actually help out so much," because now the directors can on their own time figure out what they want to see and then they can actually give the images to the artists. Whereas before, the artists would have to do over and over and over again sketches. I mean one of the problems why Life of Pie was such a mess was because Ang Lee changed the lion or it wasn't the lion.
James Blatch: Tiger.
Dominika Best: It was a tiger. He changed the tiger in the middle of production. So, they had to redo everything. Rhythm & Hues, there's this whole thing with change orders. They don't actually charge for change orders, so they had to eat the cost of that. So, that happens all the time. I'm sure it happens with Marvel too. So, if the director knows what they want, which is the first number one thing you would hope they knew, then everything will go much easier. A lot of people think these directors are like, "Oh, they're such visionaries." They're not, except for George Miller who is a God.
James Blatch: Okay, there's one. Good. Interestingly, the technology changes. I'm old enough to remember the video era emerging. So, we all thought, "Oh, we'll get VHSs at home or Betamax, whatever," but the big change actually was in filmmaking because suddenly kids like Sam Ramey could go into the forest with their mates and a camera and do everything that used to involve a 20-man crew to do simply beyond them. That opened indie filmmaking and changed cinema. I mean, Sam Ramey is obviously now a big director, but that's how he cut his teeth on the Evil Dead.
Is this happening again with the VFX side of things? Is that going from being a big, very expensive company producing this stuff to actually starting to be available to cheaper systems?
Mark Dawson: It's in transition I think at this point, because there are only a couple that I have heard of these kinds of stages where you can project the images on it. For example, Amazon's supposed to have a fantastic one that they use. So, I don't think it's necessarily available yet. I will find out soon because I'm hoping to get into that next year.
James Blatch: I'm just thinking anything that requires fewer people, the rotoscoping is basically frame by frame, isn't it? So that's very labour intensive.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it's very labour intensive. Now, of course, there's a lot of artists all around the world and there is cloud-based systems where you can set your renders to the cloud and you pay for however much power you want so you can render out your shots. So, in some ways, if you know visual effects artists all around the world, you can get them to do the work. There is again, cloud-based systems where you can just send off all of your shots to get rendered for the final images. I remember when I first got into visual effects, it was I think 2005, 2006. I actually had to rent four or five CPUs that I brought into my house so I could render the final images for my portfolio. That was just 2005. Now, you can get an entire render farm in India or wherever they are and they can do the shots for you.
So, in that way, it is possible, but there's still the human effort of having to the rotoscoping and the compositing and the animation. So, a lot of time when you talk to visual effects artists about, as a director, "Hey, what should I do? How should I plan the shot?", they always say try to do everything in camera and whatever you can't. Then the little pieces, then you can do that, but it's still quite expensive even with the whole world doing it at this point in time. I am very excited about this new technology, but as I said, it's only become viable in the last two years. Then I just don't know yet how available it is to people like me versus people like Ang Lee or the people who are doing Star Wars currently.
James Blatch: Yeah. It's almost like going back to old back projection, isn't it, for the actors are seeing this?
Dominika Best: Yeah, exactly.
James Blatch: Like the 1940s driving a car with a-
Dominika Best: Yeah, exactly, exactly. Just extremely high definition and I don't entirely fully know the technology behind it, but it's supposed to be pretty incredible. If you had a still image, it would work, but if the camera started moving, then there would start being issues and supposedly they figured that out. There's some things coming on the horizon that could be great.
James Blatch: Exciting. What was first for you, screenwriting or novel writing?
Dominika Best: It was actually screenwriting. Well, I started screenwriting in 2005. I went to the American Film Institute. There was a special programme that was almost a scholarship year. It was called a Directing Workshop for Women. I was able to make a short film, so I wrote screenplays for that. That was while I was working as a visual effects artist. Then I had to have a feature, because once you have a short, you're getting into the film festivals. When you're meeting people, they're like, "Okay, well, where's your feature script?" So, I wrote a feature script and I ended up getting into the film independent screenwriting lab for it and went through their process. But I tend to write very high budget things. I'm not really an indie person, so they really couldn't help me out.
Then I discovered it was right around the time that Wool came out. My husband's like, "Hey, have you heard about this Amazon KDP thing where people are self-publishing?" I think that was like 2011 maybe. I was like, "Oh, this sounds great," because I had screenplays optioned. But as a lot of people I'm sure know, you can get things off, something never goes, things fall through, the producer drops you. It's like this whole process of constantly trying to get a thing made, which is almost nearly impossible. So, I was like, "Oh, my God. This would be fantastic."
I had a bunch of screenplays that I had gotten back and I was like, "Well, why don't I create my screenplays into novels so I can start making money and start creating original IP?" Because that was around the time that Hollywood was shifting into they just wanted IP that was already existing versus specs scripts. So, that's how I started with the self-publishing back way long ago.
James Blatch: You say spec scripts. What stories were you writing? What genre?
Dominika Best: Spy.
James Blatch: Oh, Okay. There's a lot of worldwide locations, glamorous locations.
Dominika Best: Yeah, lots of worldwide. The one that I had actually gotten into the film independent with was my own personal story. I'm actually originally from Poland. My parents and myself and my sister escaped in the middle of the night under communist times in 1981.
James Blatch: Wow.
Dominika Best: So back in the '80s, there used to be all those films of people escaping the Berlin Wall. Well, that was pretty much what we did, but on the Polish side. So, we had to go to the Czech Republic, which was Czechoslovakia at the time.
James Blatch: Which is also behind the Iron Curtain.
Dominika Best: Also, behind the Iron Curtain. We had a midnight crossing into Austria and we ended up in a refugee camp there. So, the script was about my parents getting involved in solidarity, which I found out that my dad actually was involved in solidarity at the time and the communists coming after them, because I remember tanks in the streets, machine guns. It hadn't gone under martial law yet, but there was a lot of military presence in my town. I was like six, but I still remember that. So, my script was a sensationalised born version of that story. So, I got very good notes on it, but they're like, "Yeah, this is a $10 million movie with all European locations. We can't really help you with this."
James Blatch: Sounds great.
Dominika Best: Yeah, it's fun. Actually, I've never put into a novel. It seems almost more like a graphic novel, which has always been on my to-do list, but I haven't quite gotten to that yet. So, it's still sitting as a script.
James Blatch: Well, I mean, that's up my street, the Cold War stuff. I'm now currently ruminating for my book four idea, which will probably be 1970 rather than 1980. But let me just ask you a couple of questions about that, because I do find that fascinating period.
I was young at the time of Lech Wałęsa and Solidarity, but 1982, I seem to remember, was the big Gdańsk strikes and stuff. So, probably the year after you left, but then there's a long gap between 1989. So, did they all get suppressed? I'm sketching. What happened after that before the collapse of communism?
Dominika Best: Well, they were getting pretty much suppressed from I think 1979. One of the reasons why my dad said we left was because both my parents were electrical engineers and he worked at a large factory overseeing quite a bit of people. The solidarity leaders in my town, which was Łódź, had come up to him being like, "Hey, we want you to organise." Literally the next day, he had been changed his position from the factory in the town, sent out, like he said, two hours to a different factory that there was no way to get to it. You had to drive a car. There was no railway. It was just like he essentially got sent out to the boonies and he got really worried that he would go to jail. Now, I think three months later, martial law was installed in Poland.
James Blatch: Right, that's what happened. Yeah, martial law.
Dominika Best: So yeah, martial law. I think that was there for about two years. So, everything got really suppressed. I mean, there was always a huge underground movement in Poland. Even in World War II, I was a big World War II buff and it's like the underground army. Both of my grandparents were in the underground army. It was just a big deal. The Polish people do not like being occupied. So, I think there was a lot of underground stuff happening, but I actually don't know that much about the solidarity movement after martial law happened. Then of course, the wall fell in '89 and then that they also became free, as it were.
James Blatch: He's still alive, Lech Wałęsa, I think.
Dominika Best: Is he? I think he might be.
James Blatch: I think he is. Yeah. I mean, very distinctive period. The second World War, of course, I'm not going to rant about this all night because we could talk about it, but I do remember watching the film Katyn and not knowing a huge amount about the Katyn massacre. But if you don't know anything about that, it's a very, very dark-
Dominika Best: Very dark. It's funny that you mentioned Katyn because my grandfather was there.
James Blatch: Oh, my goodness.
Dominika Best: I don't know how he survived it. He won't say. Actually, again, because I'm a big World War II buff, I went into the records and found him at one of the concentration camps that were about... It wasn't a concentration camp. It was a POW camp in Russia that was about an hour away from Katyn. I found his name there and said that he was shot in the head, but he had always talked about the forest and then he would just stop talking.
So, I could never really get anything out of him. I actually had a script about Katyn as well before that movie came out, just because nobody really knew about that massacre. It was such a massive obliteration of the Polish intelligentsia and officers there. Yeah, it was very interesting because he actually was in a POW camp in Germany as well and he was in Auschwitz for a while. He actually escaped from the POW camp in Germany. Mercedes paid him money for the rest of his life because he was making Mercedes in the POW camp.
James Blatch: It's part of their reparations. Yeah.
Dominika Best: Yeah.
James Blatch: I mean, that whole period's fascinating. People don't know about it. It's worth at least reading up and the film is heavy going, but it's fantastic film, I thought. Yeah, basically, it was the systematic execution of the intelligentsia, the GPs, the officers, the mayors and counsellors. I think at the time-
Dominika Best: Now, everybody who was educated,
James Blatch: Right. I think at the time, the Russians blamed it on the Nazis, but actually, it came from the politburo, right?
Dominika Best: Yeah, exactly. Essentially, what it was, they were not planning to intentionally at first kill everybody. They were trying to brainwash them into the communist way of thinking so they could send them back and they could then essentially... Russia has been very good with their propaganda. So, they were hoping that in brainwashing these men and essentially getting them to their side, then they could release them and send them back to Poland and that they would influence everybody they knew to be communists as well. That's at least from my understanding, from my reading, but obviously, they didn't know Polish people very well. The Polish were like, "No way. That's not happening." So, they ended up executing them, and then yes, they blamed it on the Germans.
James Blatch: Yeah. Do you draw a lot of your stories from this period, this background?
Dominika Best: I don't know as much as I draw stories, but I find that I tend to be interested in rather darker things. I think because of that, so most of my writing is I write serial killers. My crime thrillers are all serial killer novels. I have a ghost series that were actually, it's called The Ghost of Los Angeles. They were originally screenplays that I had done, because the best way to do your first feature film is to do a horror film. I had a bunch of ghost story set in one location. So, I expended them out into novels and they also had serial killers, which is very dark.
I think that my background makes me more comfortable with that side just because I've seen some things and my family has gone through quite a bit. So, it's a comfort level that I have where people are like, "God, you're so morbid." I'm like, "Well, yeah, but this is the other part of life. This does happen." It is something that also interests me because good people can do really terrible things.
James Blatch: Yes. Yeah.
Dominika Best: "Good".
James Blatch: Yeah. Your crime series then is not cosy by the sounds of it. It's a violence crime series.
Dominika Best: Yes, it's violent crime. It's a police procedural set in Los Angeles with a female LAPD detective. Yeah, I take neighbourhoods and just kill off a lot of people in each neighbourhood.
James Blatch: What's your bestselling series?
Dominika Best: That is the bestselling series. So, that's the Harriet Harper Thriller series. It's six books right now. Seventh one is coming out in January. I am taking one of the characters, an FBI profiler, and starting a new series with her that's going to be an offshoot of this first series.
James Blatch: This is your first self-published book back in 2011?
Dominika Best: No, no, no, no, no, no. My first self-published book back in 2011 was actually a romance series that was going towards the erotica as it were. Then I published an urban fantasy series in 2015. Chris Fox came out with that writing to market book around that time. I was trying to do a version of that before that book came out, but I didn't actually read that much urban fantasy at the time. I've been a lifelong crime thriller, serial killer reader since I was like 10 years old. I discovered Agatha Christie at nine, and there was no looking back for me.
But thrillers back then didn't really do very well self-publishing. I don't know. I didn't know of any other authors who were writing those kinds of books. I think it was like 2016, 2017, crime thriller indies were coming out. I was like, "You know what? I should really write what I know," which is just crime thrillers. That actually worked out very well for me.
James Blatch: In terms of the writing, Dominika, I mean, a story is a story.
What are the crossovers between screenplay writing and novel writing? Are there advantages, do you think, from starting with screenplay, moving to novels that we could perhaps learn from?
Dominika Best: Oh, absolutely, because screenplays are all scenes and they're action. So, it's dialogue and action. You have to be able to tell your story. When they say you need to write an active scene and a lot of people get stuck in the heads of their characters, whereas screenplays is all you got to do, tell the story through dialogue and action. So, my first books actually were very fast reads because I didn't know how to do the thoughts inside the head very well. So, I had to do quite a bit of research of how to essentially create those inner thoughts. So, in that way, you have a very tight plotted novel if you're going from screenplay to a novel, because your dialogue is very on point because your dialogue is really telling what the character is feeling and also moving the story forward.
Then you have the action portion that is always moving the story forward as well. So, it's fantastic. Novels are much easier to write than screenplays because you have a lot more time and you can go into the character's head. So, you can do a lot of more telling than showing. Whereas screenplays is like you have it on the screen. If it's not in the dialogue or in the action and then of course in the actor's performance, you don't have a story. So, novels are much easier in that way, except for there's a lot more words.
James Blatch: How many words do you have per screenplay?
Dominika Best: I think 12,000.
James Blatch: Wow. Including the dialogue?
Dominika Best: Yeah, everything. Yeah.
James Blatch: That is amazing.
Dominika Best: Versus a novel, but in that 12,000 words, you have everything, right?
James Blatch: It's quite interesting. I've noticed quite a lot of novellas get turned into films. That makes sense now. The novels probably have too much in them.
Dominika Best: It's too much. Novels tend to do the best as TV shows because you have an entire seasons to go through. We just finished watching The Peripheral and I think I haven't totally finished the book, but I bet you they've only done a portion of that book, even though I do know that they made a lot of changes. But again, when you get that world of the novel, then that just works really well with a TV series versus a movie, which you only have 90 to 120 minutes if you're not doing a Marvel thing. But if you think of all the Marvel stuff, those come from comic books. The comic books, there's not that much words in there either, right?
James Blatch: No, they're pretty bare. I was thinking about this the other day, this a clunky way of when films do it normally is you have this clunky internal monologue from a narrator, which famously, they ruined the original cut of Blade Runner with. The better way of doing it is showing it obviously what happens. But you do get to do something in films, which I think is hard to do in books. I think I write quite visually. I think I'm very dialogue heavy and I write thinking, "How's this going to look if it was a scene?", which I was told ages ago is a good way of doing it.
But in film, you can show somebody brooding. You can show them in a particular mood, pensive, nervous. A good director will show the little hand tapping, the nervous involuntary movements, and then them coming to a decision and leaving a room without a word. That's good film making when you pick up those small details and that tells the story. I find that's quite difficult to do writing a novel.
Dominika Best: Well, absolutely, because you have to essentially create that picture for your reader through your words. I mean, again, with the screenplay, you also have to remember that's the blueprint, but then there's so many different layers that come on top of that. So, when you get the actors that are involved in the screenplay, then they bring their own life experience. So, they take the words that you've written on the screenplay and flesh them out into all these little movements of body. For example, I remember reading that Meryl Streep, when she reads a screenplay, she figures out how the character walks. Is it slumped over? Her shoulders are back.
So, even just that self-expression of the actor on a screen, it just extrapolates whatever was in the screenplay and just brings so much richness to it as well as the music, the cinematography, the director and his ideas. So, even though the screenplay is the blueprint, there's so many other people that go on top of that. Whereas in a novel, you're essentially all those people, right? You're the cinematographer talking about the mood of the place. You have to show how your character moves their body and reacts to the person. So, in the novel, you have to put that all in a very nice way without getting boring.
James Blatch: But it is a good way of doing it, to visualise your scene as if it was playing-
Dominika Best: Oh, absolutely.
James Blatch: What music would be playing? What would the weather be like? What would the lighting be, a dark room, a light room? Then create the scene with words, without boring people to death in the process. Yeah, no, it's an obvious thing to say really, isn't it, that you should be able to visualise the scene. If you can't, it's not moving along the scene, it probably shouldn't be there. In filmmaking, scenes get cut before they even get filmed.
Dominika Best: All the time.
James Blatch: Even when they're filmed, it will sometimes just get pulled out of films because they're not...
Dominika Best: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Well, they say that the script is completely rewritten again in the editing portion. So, the editor rewrites the movie per what was actually filmed. So, there have definitely been times where an actor takes a character in a completely different direction and the film is completely cut up in a totally different way because now it's changed the story. So, you have the screenplay that you shoot, and then once you get it into the editing room, then you're just recutting it totally again. So, you have the screenplay as a touchpoint, but then it's really about the footage. What did you get into the footage and what did the actors bring? And then you just recut it again. So, editing almost in its own way is again, a rewriting of the movie to what it can be.
Well, the director's cuts that come out all the time, right? That totally can change the movie. Actually, it's funny you mentioned Blade Runner. That is my most favourite movie of all time outside of Alien. Alien and Blade Runner was the reason why I got into filmmaking. You see all the Blade Runner director's cuts and what the narration did or how they stuck that end. They're going over the trees, right? It just totally changes the mood of the film. So, again, with film, it's such a process that you're going through and that the story is ever changing. Whereas with the novel, it is what it is.
James Blatch: I suppose there is an analogy, but the first draft might be the filming and then you can revise it and rewrite it. I mean, I do that. My first draft throws up things that change in the revision side of things. Jenny Nash, I'm actually interviewing tomorrow, talks about doing exactly that with the amber light system like that. You are doing all these parts. You're the directory or the rewriter. You can rewrite the script for the second draught.
Let's talk a bit about your writing process. So, for novel writing, do you plot? Because I imagine screenwriting probably is plotted.
Dominika Best: Yeah, I'm a big plotter. I get my structure down first. Once I get the structure down, then I decide which POVs I'm going to do. Plus, because I write crime, I usually go from the back, from the end. So, I know who my killer is, what drives him to kill. I know all of the victims, how he met the victims, and then I work backwards to the beginning. What's the first body that's going to be found? What are the clues that are going to be peppered in to get my detective going forward? One of the things that I've done in this specific series is I always have a POV of one of the victims that survives, because in a lot of books, it's typically women who just get massacred.
So, with this series, I always have a POV of one of the victims that is a survivor that overcomes this killer and hopefully kills them at the end, because in a lot of these books, the detective kills the killer. I have some of my victims try to get their power back and just to see what it feels like to be stalked or to be in this terror. So, that's one of the things that I have done in this specific series. So, I figure out all the bad stuff and then I work backwards and go through the structure and put them into place for pacing and the clue trail and then I just write it. So, there's a lot of pre-work. I'm usually only doing two or three drafts because I've done so much of the pre-work.
Again, coming from a screenplay background, the structure set, I know the novel that I'm writing. So, I know how to mix the POVs and the pacing as well, that the pace quickens at the end. So, you start getting much shorter chapters. My third act is definitely much more action oriented like you would see in a film. So, there's always, I guess, a big battle sequence, if you will.
James Blatch: So hopefully not as overwhelming as the Marvel battle sequence that comes up the two-third point of the film. I frankly just look at my watch and think we've got 12 minutes of this and then the film can start again.
Dominika Best: Well, that and also it's like, "Oh, my God. How much damage and people are you killing in this? Oh, my God."
James Blatch: I do wonder if they're going to come back a bit at Marvel because they've got this such a big scale film. I find it a bit overwhelming and lot of people love it. My kids argue with me when I talk about this, but are the Guardians of the Galaxy films for me with the best of that bunch? Because they're much more character based than the others-
Dominika Best: Yeah, character based than other things. I don't know if I told you that in Florida, but that is my goal is to direct the Marvel film. I got I think another 20 years because I have to make my first feature first, but I have the visual effects background. I mean, I have 12 years of visual effects.
James Blatch: You're in a really good position.
Dominika Best: Yeah. So, it's just a matter of doing those first features.
James Blatch: Dominika, I feel that you will have a character driven Marvel film for us.
Dominika Best: Most likely. Yes.
James Blatch: With all the 15-minute battle sequence.
Dominika Best: Yeah, exactly. It's helpful because my husband is the biggest Marvel collector. He started collecting Marvel Comics in 1968. He had all of the originals, so he knows all the stories as well. So, you can pick his brain on, "Okay, what happened with The Fantastic Four in the '70s?" He is like, "Let me tell you."
James Blatch: Yeah, I have loved the darkest stuff that's come out of that universe in DC and Marvel. Anyway, we're back to films.
Actually, I was going to ask you about your films. You say you're going back into directing. Is that going to be with your own penned stuff?
Dominika Best: Yes, actually, I am right now in the process of writing a psychological thriller called The Popular Wife. Me and another one of my director friends, we're actually going to do a radio play podcast based on our books. So, I'm writing the novel right now. I'm going to turn it into a radio script. She has actors lined up to do all the voices. Then from that, I am going to try to make a feature of that. It's a psychological thriller set in a beach town and it's a couple trying to kill each other. So, I think it's a small budget enough that I'm hoping to be able to shoot it by the end of the year. So, it's going to be a process, but I want to make sure that the story is strong enough that the audiences will come, which is why I want to do the novel and then the radio play and then finally the actual film.
James Blatch:That'll be a full length feature?
Dominika Best: Yeah, full-length feature.
James Blatch: Yeah. So, can I ask what budget you have to come up with to make a feature?
Dominika Best: Well, it really depends. I have friends who have made feature films for $70,000 that have played on Netflix and Amazon to rave reviews. That's like micro, micro budget. I have other friends who their first features were like two $250,000, $300,000. It really just depends on how many locations you have, how many actors you have, how small of a crew you can hit up. Again, if you don't have to do any visual effects, that's also very helpful. So, I don't necessarily want to do a micro budget of $70,000, but I want to see how resonant this story is both through how many sales I can get for the novel itself and put the sales towards the film as well as the radio play.
So, I'm not sure. I'd like to have a budget of $250K, but we'll see. I can definitely go down to $70,000 if need be, because again, it's probably going to be two main actors. I have a bunch of friends here from... I live in Los Angeles, so I know a lot of actors. I'm hoping to write something that they can really sink their teeth into and show their acting chops. That's why I chose a psychological thriller because it's really going to be the two actors.
James Blatch: The play side of things, you say radio play, but that would be a podcast type release or would you actually find a radio station in America? I don't know if radio plays are a thing in the states.
Dominika Best: No, no, no. It would be a podcast release. You know how they're doing the fiction podcasts right now?
James Blatch: Yes.
Dominika Best: Yeah. So, we have a sound editor lined up and the music supervisor and then three actors. So, it'll fully sound like one of those old school radio dramas from the '40s where you have all the sound effects and everything.
James Blatch: Well, radio plays are quite big in the UK. I mean, they play out every day of the week on Radio 4. In fact, most British writers have cut their teeth writing plays for the radio.
Dominika Best: Is that right? That's pretty great. Yeah. I have started a true crime podcast to help with bringing in more readers to my books, but this was actually something that my director friend was like, "I really want to do this, and I bet you Dominika can figure out how to do this." So, she asked me to come on board. But I think that fiction podcasts are pretty big in America from what she said. I'm really excited about the podcast and voice medium. I think that there's definitely storytelling going into that arena as far as voice sounds like the future. A lot of people that I know listen to audiobooks only. They don't actually read the books. So, I'm trying to move really hard into that space as well with my stories. So, I'm excited to see how this will go. We're hoping to launch it in February, but yeah.
James Blatch: Gosh, absolutely.
Dominika Best: We'll see how that-
James Blatch: You haven't written the novel yet.
Dominika Best: I'm in the middle of it.
James Blatch: Okay.
Dominika Best: I'm a very fast writer. I write about 5,000, 6,000 words a day.
James Blatch: Oh, you do? Wow.
Dominika Best: Yeah. Again, once I have that outline and that structure, I can just go. I'm really good when I have defined boundaries.
James Blatch: Yes. Where do you write? Not in your sound booth there, is it?
Dominika Best: No, behind the sound booth in my desk.
James Blatch: Okay. Yeah. Can I ask a few questions about your writing routine? I'm always interested to know how people approach this. Do you write in Scrivener? Do you get up early and write? Do you write in bursts or would you write in long periods?
Dominika Best: I actually dictate. Yeah, I'm a dictator. So, right in the mornings, I dictate for about an hour and a half and then I spend another hour cleaning up my dictation, but I find that I get into flow much faster when I dictate. Now I've dictated my last 10 books. So, my brain totally switches into that mode very nicely and then I get into flow within five minutes. I'm just in the story, essentially telling the story, which is great. I get about 94, 95% accuracy rate. I use Dragon on a PC, so it's pretty clean. Then I'm typically always having to add place and description. That's because again, I have a screenwriting brain. So, I am able to dictate the action and the dialogue fantastically. Then I have to go back and add what the people look like and put room they're in.
James Blatch: But it doesn't sound like you have to add too much afterwards. You have a lot of that already done.
Dominika Best: Exactly. So, that's like three, four hours. Then the rest of the day, I'm doing all the marketing stuff that we have to do these days.
James Blatch: Talking about the marketing stuff, what does that consist of for you? Your mailing list and you run ads.
Dominika Best: Run ads, mailing list, and I'm moving heavily into TikTok. Then as I said, I've started a podcast. So, I have a YouTube channel running. I have a blog going. As I said, it's true crime. I have the first five episodes out. I was doing the Long Island Serial Killer, which is a case that has not been solved. That actually ties into my book seven that is coming out in January of my series, because it's a book about sex workers being killed here in Los Angeles. So, yeah, I'm constantly doing the video portion, Instagram, doing the social media between the true crime and my novels, running ads-
James Blatch: You do a lot.
Dominika Best: ... and TikTok. I do a lot, yes.
James Blatch: Is the true crime podcast out yet, or are you still recording that?
Dominika Best: Nope, it's out. Dominika Best presents The Deviant Mind, and it's a true crime podcast. The fifth episode is actually coming out today or tomorrow. Yeah, it's doing great. I'm really excited. Plus, it's hard plugging books being like, "Oh, buy my book. Buy my book. Here's my book." Where this is more interesting because you can tell a story and then you can plug it into how your story was inspired by things that were similar to it. So, it's an easier way for me for content marketing, because I feel like it's easier for me to tell that story than being like, "Buy my book. It's about a serial killer."
James Blatch: A bit more of a subtle way is usually a better way. Great talking to you, Dominika. I mean, we haven't mentioned your paranormal romance or your cosy paranormal and paranormal romance.
Dominika Best: Cosy paranormal. Yeah.
James Blatch: It sounds like your first love is the harder boiled stuff.
Dominika Best: Yeah, I do like my dark stuff. As I said, as a director, I love sci-fi and fantasy. My short film was a Pan's Labyrinth Light, because I tried to bring my visual effects experience into that. So, when it comes to my directing, I'm very interested in the genre stuff, because you can do so much visually with that, which is why the peripheral was fantastic. I loved watching that. But when it comes to my writing, I like my serial killers. I need a dead body in there. Somebody needs to be solving it. Then because it's hard living right now in the world, it's a little dark. So, it was nice to go into the more happy romance as it were to write. So, it's almost like a palate cleanser.
Now, all of my stuff is on fae, which is still a little dark, but again, it's romance. People are falling in love. So, that's been a palate cleanser for me. Even though I don't read as much, I watch everything there is as far as paranormal when it comes to TV and film. So, that's interesting. But I have started reading in that genre as well as I'm picking up doing more writing with it.
James Blatch: Okay. I've got to be honest, fae is one of those words that I've seen. I see it written. I see it on books. I know Caroline and Suzanne here in the UK write fae, but I don't really know what fae is. Can you explain?
Dominika Best: Fairies. It's ferries.
James Blatch: But is it darker ferries?
Dominika Best: Well, I mean, the fairies were pretty dark if you look into the fairy tales of the Scottish and the Irish, the Seelie and Unseelie. They're pretty dark and nasty little creatures. So, I go towards the old folklore, right? The British Isles as it were.
James Blatch: Not so much Tinkerbell, but more-
Dominika Best: No.
James Blatch: ... aggressive.
Dominika Best: More like demon-like Unseelies that steal little children.
James Blatch: Yes. They were dark, those fairy tales. Terrifying. I hope kids still get exposed to them though, because there's nothing wrong with being a little bit sinister stuff.
Dominika Best: My kid does. Poor child.
James Blatch: You got away from it.
Dominika Best: Exactly.
James Blatch: Well, that's brilliant. You are a very busy person, Dominika, and you've got so much going on. I mean, the true crime podcasts, that would probably go down well on TikTok as well if you could serialise it on TikTok, because there was a married couple, I think, who do true crime stuff on TikTok and they pop up on my feed all the time, my For you Page.
Dominika Best: Yeah, I started my TikTok there. I'm still trying to figure out my video portion. Yeah, I love the light you have behind there and I have been trying to find something similar just to make the visual look a little bit more interesting. But I started posting on TikTok. It just started up this whole machine in the last month and a half, and I've been trying to essentially stabilise everything. So, every week, I have a system and I'm still creating the system because systems is the thing that I'm not the strongest at. So, it has been a little bit haphazard because I am doing so much, but hopefully, everything will smooth out in the next two or three weeks.
But the TikTok is great, and there's a huge true crime community there. The interesting thing with TikTok is I know that the romance writers are just killing it right now on TikTok, because BookTok, there's so many romance readers on there. I haven't really found that many crime readers and maybe they haven't congregated yet under the BookTok hashtag, but there's a tonne of true crime people there. So, I'm trying to plug into that and being like, "Oh, by the way, I got these serial killer books."
James Blatch: Well, that is a good way of doing... I mean, it's what I do with military aviation. So, it's not really a BookTok thing, but it dovetails with what I write. So, it's a lower percentage of your potential audience are going to be people who could buy your book. Whereas if it was pure BookTok, it'd be a high percentage. Yeah, you have a much big audience.
Dominika Best: Right. Exactly.
James Blatch: So, true crime is big. Great. Well, I'll tell you what, Dominika, here's the deal. At some point in the maybe 20 years' time when the UK premiere of your Marvel film happens, can me and Mark come and walk on the red carpet with you?
Dominika Best: Absolutely. Absolutely.
James Blatch: I'm very excited about that.
Dominika Best: I am very too. I'm really excited to get back into that world now that I have some IP under my belt as it were. Yeah, we'll see. 2023 better be much better than 2022.
James Blatch: Well, here's keeping everything crossed. Well, if hard work pays, it should be.
Dominika Best: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
James Blatch: Dominika, brilliant. Thank you so much for coming on.
Dominika Best: Oh, thank you so very much for having me. Sorry, I didn't get to tell too many of my Hollywood stories, but I'm going to say George Miller knows everything.
James Blatch: There you go.
Dominika Best: He's the brilliant director. He's the best guy I've ever worked With.
James Blatch: He's the one. It's nice to finish on a positive note because there were quite few interesting less positive stories as I recall. That's for another beer in somewhere sunny.
Dominika Best: Yes, absolutely. All right. You have a great rest of the day and thank you so much for having me on. This was a lot of fun.
Speaker 1: This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: There you go, Dominika Best talking to us from, I guess, California. Forgot to ask or I can't remember now, but anyway, really good chats. So, it was quite hard to explain, but basically the way that they film a lot of films now, particularly these Marvel films that you love, lots of green screen. So, as you walk into the sound stage where they film and it's all green screen and there's people with poles with tennis balls on them and all this stuff's going to become groups or whatever in the final thing. The actors are working with tennis balls and green screen. Obviously, it would be better for the actors if they could work with something they could see. So, that's what they're moving to. Some incredible screen technology where that stuff's there and interacting with them, which is amazing.
Actually, it goes back a little bit to back projection, to the old 1940s driving a car and a screen behind you. It's that theory but done with massive amounts of processing power. So, she's talking about that being the next big breakthrough in Hollywood. When that miniaturises and becomes something that you can operate from an iPad and a PC will change independent filmmaking and make all that very expensive effects much more widely available, which I thought was very interesting.
Mark Dawson: Absolutely. Yeah. I do remember Dominika now. I remember we had a drink at the tiki bar. Yes, it was a very enjoyable chat with her, so yeah. Great to get her on the show.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, maybe she'll end up directing the blockbuster based on the novel by Mark Dawson or James Blatch. That would be annoying for you. I got picks made.
Mark Dawson: Unlikely but possible.
James Blatch: Sounds like a challenge. Yeah, so the trouble is I'm writing a spy thriller. Not because there's a big spy thriller series at the moment, but the time it takes to get a book out, they'll be onto something else next year. But you've got to predict, you've got to think what they're going to be doing in two years' time. Okay, right. I think that's it. Just a reminder that our flagship course, which teaches authors how to market their books with paid ads and drive sales, Ads for Authors, Mar's Dawson's advertising for authors is open at the moment and you can learn all about it at selfpublishingformula.com/adsforauthors. I think this air conditioning unit is drying me. I spent a lot of hours in this office in the last couple of weeks. I think this air conditioning unit is drying me out. There you go.
Mark Dawson: It's possible. Well, yes, we can get out of the office on Sunday because we're going to see a football match, aren't we in London?
James Blatch: We're going to the North London Darby mate, aren't we? We're not going to confuse the Americans because they think we're going to see Darby. We are going to see Tottenham versus Arsenal, which is among the big Darby's you get in the UK.
Mark Dawson: They have a big game this year. Yeah.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, this year, it is going to be a big game. So, Arsenal top of the table, aren't they? Yes, I did go to Arsenal, saw them against Everton at the Emirate stadium and the next week was Tottenham. All the singing and chanting before, after, during was about the Tottenham game. It's a big game for them. We're going to be sitting with the posh people. We might meet some Tottenham fans. We're going to just talk them off. Maybe they'll do a song for us.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, diamond lights.
James Blatch: Diamond lights. Is that what they do?
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Probably not, but it's what I'm hoping for.
James Blatch: That'd be good. Yeah, that'll be excellent. I'm looking forward to that. Have kick back and have a beer on Sunday. Watch some top football.
Mark Dawson: Actually, I was staying in a hotel on Sunday night. I am. Yes.
James Blatch: Thanks for the invite.
Mark Dawson: I was about to ask you off. Hey, you got to stay at a nice hotel. The railways are a bit of a nightmare in the UK at the moment. There is running, but with a bus and I'm not going to be in a bus. I won't be able to drink and I'm not getting a bus. So, I'm going to stay in a hotel, go about Monday morning.
James Blatch: Yeah, sounds good. Yes. I mean Cambridge versus more comes off tomorrow. So, I'm quite pleased I've got this full match to look forward to on Sunday.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, then on 6:00 on Sunday as the Dolphins against the Bills in the playoffs and that is going to be an absolute massacre. So, I don't actually mind that's going to overlap a little bit, because I think that would be unpleasant to watch.
James Blatch: I thought the Dolphins were doing right this season.
Mark Dawson: They were until literally everyone is injured. Almost everyone. Anyway, this is terribly boring.
James Blatch: It really is boring now. But if you've got this far, well done, we should give a prize to people who got this far. Okay. Right. Thank you very much. All that remains for me to say then is this a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
Mark Dawson: Goodbye.
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