Screenwriting Instructor Dan Kay Discusses ‘Pay the Ghost’ and Writing in Hollywood

December 22, 2015

New York Film Academy screenwriting instructor Dan Kay is making quite an impression in Hollywood right now with the latest Nicholas Cage flick he penned entitled Pay the Ghost. The taut thriller follows a man (Nicolas Cage) who—haunted by eerie images and unexplainable messages—tries to unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of his son. The film hit theaters, Blu-ray and digital download just in time for this past Halloween. Kay has also written the horror film Timber Falls (2007), comedy Way Off Broadway (2001), which he also directed, and the revenge thriller I.T. in post production now and set to release soon. I.T. stars Pierce Brosnan as a successful book publisher who is pitted against a young disgruntled I.T. consultant using his tech skills to threaten the author’s family and livelihood. Los Angeles campus’s Dean of Students Eric Conner moderated the discussion. Dan Kay recounted for students the path that got him to where he is today and gave invaluable advice.

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Consistent with the NYFA philosophy of learning by doing, right out of college Dan moved to New York and began working on every film set he could find. This helped him to learn the nuts and bolts of film production. Meanwhile, he wrote what was to become his screenwriting and directorial debut Way Off Broadway. It took him two years to find money for the film, however Dan considers this time he spent pitching and rewriting the script to be crucial to the story’s success. Had he gotten money right after finishing the first draft of the script the film would not have been any good. The film is based off of his friends and experiences in college theater. Dan stressed the importance of “writing what you know,” which is exactly what he did in order to break into the biz.

After coming out to Los Angeles Dan was hired to write the sequel and story arch for subsequent sequels to Disney’s Tinkerbell animated movie. The producing team working on the series loved Dan’s work and he was feeling confident navigating the very new-to-him world of children’s movies. However, out of nowhere there was a corporate takeover and everyone who had hired Dan was suddenly replaced and the new producers replaced Dan as well. This had nothing to do with the quality of his work but rather the new producers wanted to bring in their own writers. The entertainment industry is unpredictable and unstable, Dan explained, and you have to be resilient. This is exactly what Dan did in deciding to venture into a whole new genre for him—horror. It wasn’t long until his first horror script Timber Falls was being produced.

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NYFA Dean of Students Eric Conner with Dan Kay

Dan described how the making of his movie Pay the Ghost came about which was particularly interesting to producers. A producer Dan collaborated with had been hitting up small literary management agencies looking for good, unpublished stories. Agencies are often more than happy to option these stories for free and forgo payment until and if the story is developed into some medium. This is exactly how Pay the Ghost came about, as it was originally a short story—albeit a very short story. Dan’s producer gave him the optioned short story and he elaborated on it extensively to develop a feature length script. His work impressed production companies and the script was soon bought. Once Nicholas Cage decided to attach himself to the script it wasn’t long before financing came through and the film was made.

The New York Film Academy is privileged to have Dan Kay, such a wonderful real world entertainment professional, teaching our students and we look forward to watching his career soar!