Behind The Curtain: How do scripts find their way to actors?

March 1st, 2012 by

Another in a new GITS series called “Behind The Curtain.” It arises from an inspiration Franklin Leonard had — you can read about it here: Basically if you have questions about specific aspects of how the film or TV business works, you can post them here, then Franklin will find experts in the field to answer them.

Today’s question comes from Earl:

Could you talk about the process by which scripts find their way to actors? How does Brad Pitt come to learn about the new hot script on the market.

Franklin posed that question to a “senior executive at an A-list actor’s production company”. Here is his/her response:

When you are a star, a true star that only needs one name like Brad or Leo or Will, you don’t find scripts as much as they find you. The economic model of today’s Hollywood is more about math than it is about creativity. Every studio or financier has an algorithm worthy of Billy Beane that they use to project the foreign and domestic value of their films. In that equation, there are very few names that guarantee success. If you happen to be one of those names, everyone in town chases you. Everyone. The only way to cut through all of that white noise is with an impeccably written script. And the good news is that when it comes to writers, Hollywood is incredibly democratic. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Oscar winner or that Oscar winner’s pool guy…if you have an exceptional voice that manifests itself in an exceptional script, people will take notice. But if you want to talk more specifically, let’s use some examples of the four scripts that my boss is currently circling – each of which has taken a different, circuitous road to where it is today.

1) The first is a long gestating project that began as a book that was brought to us by a major agency. It was sold in a heated auction situation and then promptly sat on the shelf for 4 years. This was a situation where my boss was involved with the development of the project from day one, choosing the writer and director, tailoring it to his tastes. And now that the stars have aligned he’s going to make it.

2) The second is a script that was brought to him by a director that he’s wanted to work with for a long time. It was a project that was set up at our home studio and it was given to us by a studio executive acting on behalf of the director. The script itself was a formerly ‘hot’ script that dropped off the radar until the director attached himself. In this instance, none of the writers reps even knew we had a copy.

3) The third is a spec script that was written by someone nobody had ever heard of was so blazingly good that it demanded attention. The script was sent to us by a manager who found the writer through a friend of a friend of a friend. It has become a piece of Hollywood lore.

4) The fourth is a script from a writer/director. It came to us unofficially as everyone in town was passing it around to their friends. We read it and loved what it could offer and set up a meeting with the director.

So that’s four projects, each of which is going to get made and each of which took a different path to my boss’s hands. That really underscores the point that you don’t need to concern yourself with the process of getting a star attached as much as you do actually writing a truly star worthy script. If you’ve got the goods and they are on the page, the rest will always, always, always take care of itself.

What an insightful response directly from a top industry insider. Two comments to drive home some takeaway:

* “If you’ve got the goods and they are on the page, the rest will always, always, always take care of itself.” How many times have you read a post on this blog saying this very same thing. Focus your energy and attention on the script! If you write a great script, everything else will take care of itself!

* While a writer may not need to concern him/herself with the process of getting a star attached, it is informative to see how there are ways material reaches up to the top echelons of Hollywood talent. It may be tempting to think of A-list actors as utterly remote in terms of a writer’s chances of getting a script to them. And by and large, the odds are extremely long in that regard. But again, A-list actors like everyone else in Hwood are looking for great stories. If you’ve got the goods and they are on the page… you know the rest.

Many thanks to the anonymous senior exec at an A-list actor’s production company for taking the time to provide this most informative response.

And of course, thanks to Franklin for offering to take on this series.

If you have a good question about the Hollywood film business you think GITS readers would find interesting and helpful, feel free to post your inquiry in comments.

3 thoughts on “Behind The Curtain: How do scripts find their way to actors?

  1. […] Behind The Curtain: How do scripts find their way to actors? ( […]

  2. […] second post is about getting your script into the hands of big-time actors. An anonymous executive of an A-list actor’s production company had this to […]

  3. I would like to believe that “blazingly good” means something more than “ridiculously marketable.” I really would.

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