Monday, December 27, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 156 - Year Three Recap

This has been quite the writing year - both productive and educational. My post-Apocalyptc spec, which ended 2009 in the hands of a creative executive at a production company in Hollywood, evolved over the course of another three drafts (and many smaller revisions) since then. In May, the independent producer who optioned it a year and a half ago (Gretchen) and the creative exec agreed that the then-current incarnation of the script was just about industry ready. In June, I renewed my option with Gretchen, a move that really protects her as much as if not more than it served me at that point. Finally, after agreeing that the script was just about all there in May, we spent a week doing final proofreading and minor problem-solving in August, having subjected it to another few months of filling in gaps and making tweaks. Toward the end of the summer, not long before Labor Day, the script went out to agents and was slipped to a lawyer. 

We got positive responses from a few of the agents, namely at UTA and WME. While waiting to see if either interested agent was keen enough to meet with me and possibly take me on as a client, and while waiting to hear back from the lawyer who the creative exec had given the script to, I dove into a new project. My firefighter script, a fun, semi-absurd action spec, took about a month to write, after outlining and character sketching was through. During that month, my manager gave me confirmation that someone at UTA was indeed very interested and had a strong working relationship with both the lawyer (who by that point had read and liked the script a lot) and the creative exec still working with us. 

With the interest from those parties secured, my manager set up meetings for me. I flew out to LA in mid-October, three days after finishing the first draft of my firefighter spec. My manager and I met that weekend to prepare for the upcoming meetings and to discuss the draft of the firefighter script. While he liked it, we both acknowledged that there was a tone issue that warranted addressing before the script went out anywhere. That Monday, I had successful meetings at UTA and at the law firm. A lunch with the creative exec revealed that the production company she works for would not stay on as a partner on the script, either officially or unofficially. However, she was still devoted to the project, and secured the ability to remain on board, independently, developing the material with us on the side, apart from the production company. Both reps I met took me on as a client, and I was back to NYC with a promise to deliver two specs a year.

Not long after returning from LA, I was bound for the Middle East for vacation. It was a great trip, but also served as a two-week break from all things writing. My return to the States preceded Thanksgiving and year-end madness by just a few days. In the time since, I came up with a handful of other ideas for potential scripts, some more plausible than others. I've now settled on three that I'd like to pursue, though one of them might be less marketable than the others. My charge now is to dive fully into one to have it ready to begin working on and talking about soon into the New Year. And, finally, as 2010 wraps up, my reps and I are awaiting news from a read we are getting at a studio over the holiday, and regarding interest we have from another producer who read and really liked it. With Hollywood effectively closed until January 3, there's little for the post-Apocalyptic spec any of us an do for the next week, other than wait. Still, it could be a result very much worth waiting for. 

One thing that's captured my attention regarding this whole process, is how a writer's script's future is completely out of their hands at a certain point. (I'm talking mostly about unproduced or emerging writers like myself here.) I spent nearly three years writing the post-Apocalyptic spec, yet at this point, I am making very few decisions regarding it. My representatives and independent producers keep me in the loop regarding everything, but the ball is very much not in my court. Sure, I can weigh in, and they're all great to deal with - this is in no way a knock against any of them; I couldn't have lucked out more in terms of the type of people I'm dealing with. Still, when all is said and done, while I think about the script a lot, it can be weeks between phone calls or emails about it. To have gone from so much time with it and being the only person involved in its development, to the one discussing it the least and the last to be responsible for mapping its future is just a very strange feeling, one I've come to terms with, but which still seems odd when I think about it.

It fails to elude me, either as I write this now or when I frequently think about it, that my experiences in the industry - or at least on its periphery - have all been due to one script. The representation I've secured, the lunches and coffee meetings, the development calls and countless rewrites, all of it has been due to one project, for one project. Naturally, this begs the obvious question (while I'm sure my reps are thinking it, I'm the one who has so far vocalized it) - will there be another script? Will I take meetings and lunches and generals and calls for another project that people are interested in?

The honest answer, is that there's no guarantee. Certainly, I hope there will be. The agent and lawyer and manager who have invested time and energy in me definitely hope so. I am working to make a viable follow up script a reality (and soon, I hope). But, as with so many other things in this industry, there is no absolute affirmation. No guarantee. The thing is, though, I don't think that should be a grim revelation. My work is cut out for me, as I love to recall my agent's words; it is both "very easy and very difficult, [I] just have to keep writing." So there it is, my mission for 2011: more writing. If this, my career trajectory, is a script, I like to imagine that I've come to the end of Act One; 2010 (and some major events in the two years preceding it) set up a possible outcome for my venture into screenwriting. As we turn the page into 2011, the difficulties of a self-sustaining second act become readily apparent, and despite the obstacles, highs, and lows I might encounter in the coming years, my directive is to continue writing throughout, and to do it better than I have in the past. I feel ready for the challenge. Onward, into 2011. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 155 - The 3 Ps of Being a Client

Hollywood is closed. Until January 3rd, very little will be happening in Tinsel Town. People will be reading a lot of scripts, but in terms of deals and meetings, there will be next to none of that going on - especially officially. 

Because of the two week break at the end of the year, this is a difficult time to really break in. It is, on the other hand, an amazing time to get some major writing done. With the industry going silent for a bit, we writers - especially those of us who are still trying to get our names and work out there - have the perfect opportunity to polish off current or start new scripts. Managers and agents won't be clamoring for new material, and the buyers are out of town (or at least away from the office), so there's no pressure now to go to the industry. It's an amazing time to just focus and write.
That said, just to continue relaying my experiences to other hopeful scribes, I'll give you my year-end update. I spoke to my manager at the end of the day yesterday, and 2010 ended on a fairly positive note. There was some positive feedback from a production company, though again nothing concrete beyond that until after January 3. We also have a read at one of the studios over the holidays, which is great. Beyond those, my manager's also been in touch with a head of development at a company here in NYC, looking to arrange a general (i.e. meet and greet meeting) for me come 2011. All in all, a few nice things to look forward to after ringing in the New Year. 

One other important realization I had yesterday while talking to my manager, which I'd stress to anyone with or hoping for representation. Last week, I wrote a lot about being a proactive client. This week, I'll put on the other shoe and discuss being a patient client, a bit. I know that my manager's doing a lot - trying to set up meetings, determining if my ideas for other projects are already out on the market or not, building contacts for me. I might not hear from him, but in reviewing everything with him then, I was reminded that I don't need daily or weekly updates to know he's on the case. (Mark this under the category of "obvious, but bears repeating." If/when you have representation, just because they don't reply immediately or the meeting they're setting up doesn't happen in a day, remind yourself that they have your best interest in mind. I know my rep does, but I felt that such a crystal clear indicator of that was worth mentioning. If months go by, that's a different case. But representatives - agents, managers, lawyers - do a lot. Would you rather have them calling every hour to let you know there's no update, or out on the phone and in meetings trying to sell you and your work?

Proactive and patient - that seems to be the best way to go. And I'll throw in a final adjective to round out the "three Ps of being a client;" pleasant. Be pleasant to work with, to give notes to, pleasant in meetings, and to develop a script with. Saying "yes" or knowing how to say "no" in a kind way will make people want to work with and for you. It will make them want to protect you. As a writer, that can be invaluable. Proactive, patient, and pleasant. That'll do it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 154 - Be a Proactive Client

The agent/manager/client relationship is an interesting one. It's something that most of us new and aspiring writers dream about getting involved in. We often believe it'll be the solution to all of our (career-building) problems. Getting an agent or manager - at first, the idea is that any representative will do - is the first major goal of breaking into the film industry. Once that's been accomplished, they should do everything and drop everything for you. This kind of thinking can be misleading, can prove frustrating, and is in many ways just wrong. That said, once you have secured representation, there are a few key things you can do to ensure a more successful writer/representative relationship.

(Full disclosure: for anyone who hasn't been keeping up with me since day one - and apologies to people who have been - I currently have both an agent and a manager. Before that, I spent about four months with a manager who did not pan out, and a good chunk of time before that when I didn't have any representation at all. Take my advice, or leave it, with a grain or a cup of salt. All of this is based on what I've been told and what I've discovered through my interactions with my various representatives.)

As emerging talent, as my agent (who I secured in October) said, I have both a very easy and a very difficult job right now. I have to keep writing. Sounds simple enough, but the stakes have changed since I was just writing for myself. The future of my relationship with my representatives hinges on my ability to deliver product (scripts) in a timely fashion. That doesn't mean first drafts, either. The bar has been raised, and I'm charged with trying to produce two industry-ready scripts per year. It's a pretty mighty task, but this first year or two is really like testing period. Sure, the goal is to sell my post-Apocalyptic spec and set me up on other projects. But I also have to prove my ability to produce quality pages in a professional window. So, part of my job is to be proactive in terms of my writing - I have to come up with marketable ideas, and then be able to follow through with the scripts. In that way, I help my representatives and myself.

Being a proactive client doesn't end in just producing pages, though. While an agent or manager is supposed to set their writers up on meetings and get their name out into the industry, a dedicated client will try to do the same. This is where your contacts come into play. If you've held an internship or worked with someone before, and they have the power to read and maybe recommend a script, try to get that connection linked up with your reps. If you have an in at a production company, even if it's not the kind of company that does the work you're writing, let your manager or agent know. Make connections that they can follow up on on your behalf. The initial stage of your career is going to be used for building your visibility and gaining you some name-recognition. Be proactive in making connections, as well, and you'll help your representatives. After all, any help they get in marketing you, really just helps you in the end.

Hollywood Blacklist 2010

The 2010 Hollywood Black List - a compilation of 290 executives' favorite scripts of the year, which will not be in theaters in 2011 - has just been released. You can peruse the entire list here, at Deadline Hollywood.

If you've been following sales at all, a lot of these titles will probably look pretty familiar to you. Most of these have sold a while ago and, consequently, already have production companies attached to them. Like most independent film festivals, which were once intended to showcase work by new and emerging talent (but have since grown to be the release venues for A-list talent's next films), the Black List is no longer home to predominantly un-sold material by new writers. (Not to assume that it was, but in earlier years, many of the titles featured on the prestigious list had yet to attract buyers.) Now, the list is predominantly scripts that simply haven't been put into production yet, or are, but will not premiere on screens in 2011. In fact, excluding the scripts that only received five votes apiece - and there are a lot of those - you can count on one hand the projects which do not currently have a production company attached to them.

For those of us trying to break in, the list can be a mixed blessing. For one, I strongly suggest taking a look at it and reading all the loglines closely, so as to familiarize yourself with what's selling these days. These were the hot scripts of 2010. This is what the market wants. You'll start to see some patterns or similarities emerge pretty quickly in this list. No surprise there. On the other hand, since many of the ideas are reimaginings of tried and true formats, and fairly vague in logline format, you might find that your idea is up on that list. It's unfortunate, but that can happen a lot. The key to winding up on the list next year is to do your own take on something, not to mimic it entirely. While what's selling today might not be selling tomorrow, chances are rival companies are going to want to jump on the bandwagon - at least for a little bit - so you might see a market opening. Take it, if you can.

Also of note, and probably pretty obvious once you think about it, is the fact that all of these scripts have representation. This makes sense, since this list is compiled from votes by executives. For the most part, the only way to reach those people is through agents and managers. Don't be discouraged if you don't have representation yet. Just keep querying and trying to get someone to read your script. Hopefully, you'll name will be on the list next year!

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 153 - Know the Market

Screenwriting is a business. When you're a writer, you (your work) are your product. Your ideas and your talent are the good you sell, and your ability to deliver on time and be a pleasure to work with helps put you above the rest of the competition. And, like in any other business, in order to stay afloat in it - or in cases like mine, where the writer has yet to make a sale, but is trying to wiggle into the industry - you must know both the market value of the product and the market trends.

I've talked a lot in the past about the importance of knowing the market. Sites like Done Deal Pro and Deadline Hollywood help track sales and industry happenings. Track this information closely. You can tell what the value of your idea might be based on whether or not something similar (i.e. teenage vampires) has sold recently, and what it went for. If twelve teenage vampire scripts sold last month, there's probably a good chance that by the time your idea hits the right agent or producer's desk, the trend will have passed, and the next hottest tween 'tainment craze will have begun. On the other hand, if space seems to be the next frontier for Hollywood, and your agent just happened to have received the next Star Wars from you, you could be in a good spot. Similarly, if a couple big action movies just sold, and you have a tentpole action out to representation or studios, you can guesstimate what its worth by what the others went for. (Of course, your representatives are the ones who will negotiate the terms of the sale; their job is to know that X scripts are going for Y money these days. A writer in the know, though, is always a smart businessperson.)
The downside to all this information can be equally as obvious. Research done at Box Office Mojo and via the trades can and often does shed some light on the climate for certain pictures at the moment. For example, the past week, I've been developing a Middle Ages idea. Over Thanksgiving, I watched the new Robin Hood movie. It wasn't very good. More than that, it cost a lot of money, and it was not considered a huge box office or critical success. Failing on one of those two points might not be so bad, if the other lives up to hope. For both to fall short, though, can be bad news - not only for the companies and talent involved, but for the genre itself. I had a hunch that Robin Hood might have made Middle Ages movies a bit risky now, so I called my manager last week just to follow through. Sure enough, he was keen on everything about the idea, except for the fact that it was set when and where it was. Audiences did not receive the last Medieval movie well, so all future projects are (almost immediately) dubbed too risky. Especially when written by still-unknown writers.

On the other hand (and back to the positive), tracking the trend like that allowed me to get a jump on debating the viability of the project, before getting too far into the script. Imagine if, three months from now, I sent my manager a completed draft of a script, just to hear, "I like it, but we shouldn't do the Middle Ages now." That would be bu hao ("no good"). So, in addition to all the writing you're doing, if you don't do so yet, try to follow the market, as well. It can give you a much needed leg up in this difficult industry.