This week, we are fortunate to have as our guest manager-producer Adam Kolbrenner from Madhouse Entertainment, an L.A.-based production and literary management company that works with screenwriters and writer/directors in the areas of film, television and new media.
I will be posting the whole interview over the course of the week. Today in Part 6, Adam reveals what he is looking for when he reads a script and in a prospective writer client.
Now let’s look at what you do through the eyes of an aspiring screenwriter. How do you go about the process of surfacing a new talented writer?
It’s all about that one script that’s a calling card. If you don’t have it but ask to meet people or just “get out there” Madhouse is not the right representative. I think you might require something more like a dating service. If you can’t fundamentally write the script that will define you, perhaps you should choose another profession. When we do have that script, the world is yours.
What specifically are you looking for when you read a script from a potential writer client?
Voice. Characters. Plot that we did not see coming. Dialogue that is not derivative of what we’ve seen on screen before. If I’m on page 1 of a cop thriller and the cliches start to pop up, say a character gives me: “I’m too old for this shit” or “The Mayor is on my ass already” I’ll be putting your script down on the ground. Have you heard this line of dialogue in a movie from years ago? You probably have, and it’s not yours to write again.
Let’s say you read a terrific script by a new writer. What’s your process in checking them out as a potential client? Are there certain types of personality traits or skill sets you’re looking for in addition to their writing talent?
Yes as I mentioned, great writing is 99% of what this business is. But the other 99% is how hard are you willing to work for it. (99+99 adds up right?). If I meet a writer and he tells me how great that script is I just read and he asks me what I’m going to do to get it made, and THEN he’ll figure out what he’ll write next, I end the meeting there. Don’t worry about what I’m going to do, worry about what YOU will do for your career as writer. Go write.
Okay, so let’s further hypothesize you agree to represent this writer and they have this one great spec script they’ve written. It doesn’t immediately sell, but it’s a strong writing sample. How might you approach guiding this writer through their first six to twelve months in Hollywood? What opportunities might you be focusing on? How closely would you be working with them and what would that work look like?
Madhouse Boot camp. For both of us actually. We certainly look at opportunities out there in the marketplace that are realistic. But, the reality is our boot camp is working together to determine what is going to be the next spec. Why didn’t the first one sell? Who knows. But put it behind you and move on to the next. Now people know your name. What are you going to give them next? That’s all they care about.
Does Madhouse Entertainment accept unsolicited submissions? Can writers submit loglines to you by email?
We get dozens of unsolicited emails a day. It’s not cool and now I just delete them because while it might seem to a writer that sending an email first thing in the morning for representation is the best time to get a response, I get up in the morning and have at least 50 emails to start going through from clients and others around the world. Delete. So, Madhouse’s system can be found out online at our website: www.madhouseent.net – we look at every email there, all log lines, determine what sounds interesting and we go from there. Lots more info and updates on twitter: @madhouse_ent – the website link is there as well to submit.
A few subjects that come up again and again. First what’s your advice on whether a writer should relocate to LA or stay where they are and write from there?
We represent plenty of writers that live all over the country. When you’re starting out, working from anywhere is fine to an extent. But, in order to be constantly in the game you need to be in Los Angeles. It shows a more serious commitment to the craft. You meet plenty of other writers here, more opportunities open up and you feel connected. You want to work on Wall Street, live in NYC. You want to work in Hollywood, live in Hollywood. If you don’t want to live in Los Angeles, at least move to Burbank.
Next would you generally advise aspiring writers to focus on one genre or to write whatever stories they want to pursue?
I think it’s vital for a writer to write in the lane that they want to write in for a long time. I hear from new writers they have a comedy and a drama and a horror film and my head explodes. Know who you are. Look at the best screenwriters in the world. Does David Koepp write the next Will Ferrell movie? Does John August write Paranormal Activity 6? They don’t cross genres, why should you?
One more: Should an aspiring screenwriter be more concerned about writing for the market or writing stories about which they are truly passionate, even if their content may fly in the face of Hollywood conventional wisdom?
This sort of wraps around to our whole conversation. Good writing will rise to the top. No matter what the story is. On the 2012 Black List Madhouse had everything from a 14th Century movie about whaling, to a slave escape film, to a multi-generational road trip comedy, to a teen time travel adventure and more. Passion is great. But great storytelling and great writing wins.
If you had to estimate how many scripts you read a year, what would that total be? After reading so many scripts, do you still get excited about the possibility that this next one could be great? How do you sustain that positive energy?
Madhouse recently ran a contest that was basically a jelly bean count on all the scripts that were stacked behind my desk over a two year period. (There’s a photo in Screenplay Magazine by Tom Benedek from a year or so ago). I print every script and read them all. The number in the script contest was exactly 2,897. We read everything we can get my hands on. I stay positive because I have to. I substitute a classic novel or the great screenwriters (August, Koepp, etc) work in there from time to time to keep perspective. Every time someone recommends a new writer to me, whether i’ve heard the name or not, I get excited. I read everything by the following monday. Always. I don’t sit around. Energy? The Coffee Bean across the street from the Madhouse office and constant flow of interns running over there.
What’s the single most satisfying aspect of what you do as a literary manager?
Building lives and careers. Seeing our clients cash checks. Seeing clients get married, have kids, build houses. Seeing movies get made.
Finally what’s the one biggest piece of advice you can give to aspiring screenwriters?
Read everything. Write more than everyone else. Stay focused. Don’t quit. Don’t expect results from others, the only results come from when you type “THE END” and send that script to the universe. The universe will decide on the great ones. Tip your bartenders and the valet guys because they might just have a great story idea for you.
That concludes this great interview with one of Hollywood’s most notable managers Adam Kolbrenner.
Please stop by comments to thank Adam for taking the time for the interview and post any follow-up questions you may have as he has agreed to answer them.