The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 13]

June 25th, 2015 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the boom, bust, and back again of 1990-2012.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

In Part 6, we explored rolling out a new writer’s spec script.

In Part 7, we delved into the subject of attaching producers.

In Part 8, we considered the value of attaching talent.

In Part 9, we learned about reps wanting to “own all the tickets”.

In Part 10, we dug into how reps generate buzz for a spec script.

In Part 11, we scrutinized the practice of slipping a script to someone.

In Part 12, we acknowledged the role that serendipity can play in the process.

Part 13: Targeting Specific Buyers

Sometimes a rep will slip a script to someone. Occasionally a script can take on a life of its own through serendipity. But more often, reps will come up with a strategy that – broadly speaking – goes one of either two ways: They target specific buyers or they go wide. Today we look at the former. Observations from screenwriter Justin Rhodes:

Targeting people specifically means the material can evolve or shuffle between different parties in a gradual way. You can afford a few no’s before you’re finished, if that’s the way things shake out. The advantage, hypothetically, is that you’re more likely to sell the thing if you take pains to mitigate any hurdles that come up. The disadvantage is that it can take a couple of months for the whole process to play out, especially if the project isn’t seen as a “slam dunk.” And slam dunk means: star parts for stars the studio likes, clear genre, clear simple concept that’s easy to market, and an obvious place in the studio’s slate. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how well you’ve written the thing.

Much of this choice is determined by the script itself. It could be a project that by its very nature, whether through content, genre and/or budget, would appeal to a limited set of buyers. It could be so unique, it requires a company with an established openness toward unusual fare. It could have a distinctive angle or hook that might slot into a handful of buyer’s slates.

As Justin indicates, the process can take months. We’ve seen this happen with several Black List scripts. For example, Murder City, a 2012 Black List script didn’t get set up until March of this year. Another 2012 Black List script Don’t Make Me Go just recently found a home in April.

Scripts like these can require more finesse, commitment, patience and luck. There are other scripts, however, where the concept, genre and execution are so mainstream, they deserve to go wide, out to dozens of buyers at the same time.  That’s the subject of next week’s Business of Screenwriting post.

[Originally posted May 9, 2013]

The Business of Screenwriting is a series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 12]

June 18th, 2015 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the boom, bust, and back again of 1990-2012.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

In Part 6, we explored rolling out a new writer’s spec script.

In Part 7, we delved into the subject of attaching producers.

In Part 8, we considered the value of attaching talent.

In Part 9, we learned about reps wanting to “own all the tickets”.

In Part 10, we dug into how reps generate buzz for a spec script.

In Part 11, we looked at the practice of slipping a script to someone.

Part 12: Serendipity

Hollywood is one of the world’s most famous brands. And of course, there is that iconic sign:

If you don’t live and work in Los Angeles, you may think the movie community is this enormous entity.

It’s not. Instead it’s actually quite small, particularly if you are just talking about those who are involved in project acquisition and development. There are perhaps a few thousand people. Think about that. A few thousand people. The Hollywood film community is like a small town. Well, one where everyone is on speed dial. So serendipitous things like the following can happen.

From my interview with screenwriter Ashleigh Powell in March 2013 [emphasis added]:

Scott: So you write this script [“Somacell”]. How did David Goyer get involved and what was the process whereby it ended up selling?

Ashleigh: I wrote the script. I was going out to a handful of producers that I had already met and had a relationship with. We gave it to an exec I actually knew from my assistant days – we were both on desks at the same time and were always scheduling meetings and calls for our respective bosses. He read it and liked it, but ultimately it wasn’t right for his company. But he passed it on to his wife to read… and she just happened to be David Goyer’s Creative Executive. So that’s how it got into his hands. Which was amazing. I was just thrilled for that. Then, simultaneously, Warner Bros. somehow ended up with it. No one on my team even knew they were reading it, and one evening they called up my agents and said, “Hey, we want to make a deal on this script tonight.” It was shocking moment. It took us all by surprise. It was just a random confluence of events.

Scott: Boy, does that speak to the power of writing a great script.

Ashleigh: It’s been really fun for me to hear that people are passing the script to their friends or to other executives on their own, without any intervention from my manager or agent or anything like that. It’s just working its way around.

Like I said… small town. It’s why networking can work so well in Hollywood. There are these subcultures — movie development, TV development, production, post-production, and so on — all these aspects of making entertainment product inhabited by people who as it turns out pretty much have one or at most two degrees of separation.

So sometimes a script gets slipped to Person A who gives it to Person B who is married to Person C who works at Studio D. And you can be Agent E and Manager F suddenly getting a call from Studio Executive G saying they want to buy Script H written by Writer I. All complete serendipity.

That’s the exception, not the rule. Generally reps have to decide whether to go wide with a spec or take a more targeted approach. We’ll dig into that in next week’s TBOS post.

[Originally posted May 2, 2013]

The Business of Screenwriting is a series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 11]

June 11th, 2015 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the boom, bust, and back again of 1990-2012.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

In Part 6, we explored rolling out a new writer’s spec script.

In Part 7, we delved into the subject of attaching producers.

In Part 8, we considered the value of attaching talent.

In Part 9, we learned about reps wanting to “own all the tickets”.

In Part 10, we dug into how reps generate buzz for a spec script.

Part 11: Slipping a script to someone

Now we come to the nitty gritty: How to take the script out to the town. There are multiple ways to go about doing this and we will explore some of them over the next few weeks.

One approach is to slip the script to a buyer. There are a lot of reasons reps may choose to make this play as opposed to going wide. Perhaps they know a studio or financier is looking for a specific type of script at that moment and the spec fits the bill. Or maybe the reps want to get an unofficial read on a script to test the waters. Sometimes it can be in part about servicing a relationship with a buyer, giving them first crack.

Here’s one real-life example from an interview I did with screenwriter Justin Rhodes in September 2011 in which we discussed his spec script “Second Sun”:

Okay, now the fun part. You finally finish the script. Could you describe what the process was where it went from you typing FADE OUT to Warner Bros. stepping in to buy your script?

Once I finished the draft, my team went about trying to package the script with a director, maybe a bit of cast. The conventional wisdom is that you can’t sell a naked spec these days. But before anyone really got a chance to implement our plan someone from Warner Bros called my agent and said they were looking for a script with some big ideas. My agent gave them SECOND SUN, and the studio expressed their desire to buy it within a couple of days.

What were the precise details of where you were when you heard that Warner Bros. wanted to acquire your script?

I was working at my desk when my agent’s assistant asked if I would be available to meet with someone at Warner Bros. I asked her which company, because I thought we were talking about some development executive for a producer with an office on the lot. But she told me, no, someone at Warner-Bros-the-Studio wanted to meet me. Today if possible. As in, can you go get in your car? My agent came on the line and told me what was going on, and that’s when I finally knew enough to get excited. It was a fun call, because as far as I knew the script hadn’t even gone out yet.

Suffice to say, as much as reps strategize and makes plans, attempting to create a circumstance in which they “own all the tickets,” sometimes the way a deal goes down is a combination of nothing more than timing and luck… and it should go without saying a great script.

Most often when a script gets slipped to someone, it is an intentional move on the part of that writer’s reps. But sometimes a spec script can take on a life of its own. And the Hollywood script acquisition and development community is so small, it doesn’t take much for a script to end up in front of the right set of eyeballs. We will discuss that next week with another example of a spec script sale.

[Originally posted April 25, 2013]

The Business of Screenwriting is a series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 10]

June 4th, 2015 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the boom, bust, and back again of 1990-2012.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

In Part 6, we explored rolling out a new writer’s spec script.

In Part 7, we delved into the subject of attaching producers.

In Part 8, we considered the value of attaching talent.

In Part 9, we learned about reps wanting to “own all the tickets”.

Part 10: Creating Buzz

Building off last week’s post about agents and managers trying to orchestrate a scenario in which they “own all the tickets,” basically to maximize the chances of a spec script sale, there is this first rule of managing the roll-out: Create buzz. Here is an NYT article from all the way back in 1990 about the fevered spec script market back in the day:

The psychological game of selling spec scripts has another important player: the Hollywood agent. It is the agents who whip up the frenzy.

Triad Artists sent ticking clocks to studio executives the week before sending out the script of ”The Ticking Man.” Says Marty Bauer, whose Bauer-Benedek agency has sold more than a dozen spec scripts for more than $250,000 apiece, ”What you do is put studio executives under time pressure to get their competitive juices flowing, so they have to make a decision based on their competitive instincts, not their rational instincts.”

So as far back as two decades ago, agents would try to generate buzz with gimmicks like ticking clocks. Twenty years later, we see the appearance of teaser trailers that accompany spec scripts. A notable one is for “Grim Night”:

In the case of “Grim Night,” a spec written by first-timers Brandon Bestenheider and Allen Bey, the script sold for high-six against seven figures to Universal.

But more often, buzz gets generated the old fashioned way: by word of mouth. In my interview with screenwriters Jeremiah Friedman and Nick Palmer, they discussed how their spec script “Family Getaway” got set up:

Nick Palmer: The initial plan had been to attach talent because you’re right, it is really difficult to sell a spec today, especially from first-time writers, with absolutely no one attached.

Jeremiah Friedman: But we were lucky in that our managers, Dawn Saltzman and Emily Rose, had done a really amazing job building interest around town as we were still rewriting so that by the time the script went out, it was already on the radar at a number of studios, which no doubt helped.

“Family Getaway” ended up at Warner Bros.

Bottom line, you could hire the Goodyear Blimp to float from one studio to the next with the name of your latest spec script emblazoned on the side accompanied by Lady Gaga dangling below giving a live blaring musical performance. Yes, that would generate considerable buzz. But if your script isn’t great, all the buzz in the world is likely not going to help you get it sold.

Conversely if your script is great, that becomes the basis of some legitimate buzz, leading to a deal and a blizzard of follow-up meetings where everyone wants to meet the hot new writer.

So as always, you have your marching orders: Write a great script.

Next week: Another installment in this series.

[Originally posted April 18, 2013]

The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 9]

May 28th, 2015 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the boom, bust, and back again of 1990-2012.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

In Part 6, we explored rolling out a new writer’s spec script.

In Part 7, we delved into the subject of attaching producers.

In Part 8, we considered the value of attaching talent.

Part 9: “Own All The Tickets”

So let’s assume a writer has nailed a spec script. It’s ready to go to market. Now comes a crucial component: The actual process of taking out the script. Check out these observations from Chris Fenton, literary manager and producer of H2F Entertainment from an interview I did with him:

I have a philosophy called “Own All The Tickets.” It’s the idea that everything’s basically a lottery, but it’s not a lottery if you own all the tickets. By that I mean, you want to have the best team possible put together, you want to have the best piece of material that’s ready to go, you want to time it right with movies that might be similar to the script that open the weekend before and make a ton of money… you want to put all the lottery tickets into your hands, anything you have control over. Because if you have them all, you can end up winning.

If you have half of them, you have a 50% shot of winning. If you just got one, it’s truly a lottery. So you have to try to pick up every single advantage you can, put it all together, and hopefully that gives you an edge to get it done.

Good agents working with good managers and a team that’s out there spraying the market with phone calls and e-mails, creating buzz and hype, and using relationships to see if there’s a last-minute piece of packaging, hopefully that all adds up to a sale for a writer with a good piece of material. And that’s what I mean: Own all the tickets.

This goes back to discussions we’ve had before, how a big key to a spec script sale is to hit a buyer’s comfort level. Their default mode is one based on fear because a bad decision that leads to an unprofitable movie casts a dark shadow on their career. This is a big reason why most people on that side of the desk in the movie business are leery of fresh, original stories, preferring the safety net of familiar titles — remakes, sequels, prequels, adaptations, and so on.

So what do reps do? Attempt to pull together as many elements as they can for a script project that hit a buyer’s comfort level. A producer the studio is comfortable with. An actor a studio is comfortable with. A sense of heat generating around town about the script suggesting it’s a strong commodity.

Of course, so much of this goes directly back to you and your choices in terms of story concept, genre, and how you shape the story itself. Which is why if you are attempting to sell a script to Hollywood, you need to make yourself aware of what studios and financiers are buying, what they’re producing, what’s working at the box office and what’s not.

Just by doing that, you can provide a rep with lot of ‘tickets,’ thereby making their job easier, and raising the chances you will land a deal.

Next week: Another installment in this series.

The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 8]

May 21st, 2015 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the boom, bust, and back again of 1990-2012.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

In Part 6, we explored rolling out a new writer’s spec script.

In Part 7, we delved into the subject of attaching producers.

Part 8: Attaching talent

What about attaching actors and/or a director? Screenwriter Justin Rhodes weighs in on that:

In my experience, it’s either the agent or the producer who approaches other elements. Almost always these attachments are made before the script goes out. For example, if you’re at one of the bigger agencies, they may have an internal conversation about the project to see if they represent actors or directors that they think might be right or could benefit from the screenplay. If so, your literary agent will pitch the project to the actor/director’s agent, and if they like it, they’ll take it to their client, who will, depending upon his/her reaction, decide whether or not he wants to read the material/hear the pitch. Oftentimes you’re also dealing with the actor or director’s business partner/manager/etc…, so there are a few hoops to jump through. In the agent scenario, though, you’re only going to be talking about actors and directors the agency represents.

The other situation is that your producer has some existing relationships with talent. Oftentimes when this is the case, you’re also talking about the ability of one person to literally call the other on the phone, so you get to skip a lot of the go-betweens in terms of access. But your mileage varies, again, depending upon the reputation and abilities of the producer you’re working with.

This goes to the heart of what is known as “packaging” a project. Let’s say screenwriter Alan Smithee is repped at the major agency EGO. This agency represents lots of actors and directors. Seeing as they get 10% from all the revenues generated by all their clients, it behooves them to get as many of them working as possible.

So Smithee writes a hot spec script. Does EGO go out with the script as is? Probably not. Why not try to package the script with talent the agency represents? 10% of two, three or more elements is better than 10% of one element (i.e., the screenwriter).

If the talent attached are in-demand and perceived to bring value (i.e., box office dollars) to the project, that can help elevate the script’s marketability.

On the other hand, waiting for actors and directors — their ‘people’ that is — to read, review and recommend (or not) scripts and agree to attach themselves to the project can turn out to be a long, drawn-out affair and ultimately a big fat waste of time.

This is where your reps and producers play a huge role, assessing the temperature of your script as it gets read.

The upside is your script gets packaged in such a way with a delicious combination of elements, it’s a no-brainer for a buyer.

The downside is if your script starts gets a number of passes from talent, that can transform what was perceived to be a hot script into a not-hot script.

This is all part of the magical mystery tour that is handling a spec script. Hopefully you end up with smart reps who know what they’re doing.

But the single best thing you can do is write a great script. Yes, I keep harping on that, but it’s true. Another observation from Justin Rhodes:

In the end, though, you’ve got to remember that people don’t sell your script. Your script sells your script. In the end, if the screenplay is all the town needs and wants it to be, your mom could probably get it set up.

Next week: Another installment in this series.

[Originally posted April 4, 2013]

The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 7]

May 14th, 2015 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the boom, bust, and back again of 1990-2012.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

In Part 6, we explored rolling out a new writer’s spec script.

Part 7: Attaching producers

This question has come up several times on the blog: What about attaching a producer to a spec script? I posed the question to screenwriter Jeremiah Friedman. Here is his response:

Like most attachments, this likely depends on the quality and frankly, the clout of the producer.  Having a major producer attached – somebody with a studio deal, multiple credits, relationships at the major agencies, independent financing maybe – can definitely be a plus as it adds credibility to the spec.  For instance, when we sold “Family Getaway,” Mosaic was attached to produce.  However, producer attachments can also be complicated.  Taking a script out with a producer who has no real track record likely won’t attract any greater attention and may just complicate any potential deal by giving the buyer another headache to worry about.  In short, the big question to ask is what is the attachment bringing to the table?  How does this producer add value to the spec?

So there is a bottom line: How does the producer add value to the spec? Good question. Screenwriter Justin Rhodes weighs in with these thoughts:

Having a producer attached generally means that he, and more often his development people, have had a role in developing the story with a writer before sending it out to the market. It’s a bit like writing a spec, because during this phase you’re still not getting paid, but it’s also a bit like writing for the studio in the sense that you’re getting notes that you’re expected to deliver on. More rarely (at least in my humble experience), a producer might read a screenplay and decide that he’s willing to attach himself to it after it’s been written. But both the producer and the people he employs are in the business of putting their stamp on things, and even in this scenario there would probably be at least a cursory bit of polish work done to bring the project in line with the producer’s vision for it.

But that’s the mechanics of the relationship. The question pertains to what a producer’s involvement portends for taking the script/pitch to market. What you have to remember is that studios don’t really produce movies themselves. If you read about the studio execs assigned to any project after a sale, the trades will always refer to them as “overseeing” the development process. From the studio’s perspective, the producer is the trusted chaperone who will make sure the artists don’t get into too much trouble. He provides a buffer for the writer as well, as hopefully he becomes an ally to help run interference for you when the studio’s notes are vague, destructive, or otherwise difficult to manage. The studio sees its job as managing its slate from a macro point of view. They see the producer as the man they pay to manage a particular granular entry on that slate.

So, if you sell a screenplay, you are going to get a producer attached no matter what. The studio won’t proceed otherwise. Your options are either to try and attach someone you respect and who you believe is on the same page with you with regards to the material, or wait for the studio to assign this person after the fact. It’s a bit like picking your first dorm roommate: do you want to room with a friend, or let the RA assign you to a stranger?

As far as advantages/disadvantages go, I feel this is really depends upon the particular producer in question. If you’re talking about a producer who the studio sees as “hot,” who has great relationships with the execs and equally great access to talent, then basically his involvement is a blessing that greases all the wheels through the first couple of gauntlets your project must pass through on its way to becoming a movie. If, on the other hand, your producer is seen as impotent, ineffectual, difficult, or otherwise has a bad reputation, then you’re project inherits all these qualities regardless of the words you’ve put on the page. Because, remember, nobody else gets paid unless the movie gets made. Not the producer, not the studio, not the crew, not the director. So nobody really cares about buying a script, per se. They care about buying a movie, and your producer plays an enormous role in helping them visualize what kind of movie-making experience they’re actually buying.

From my point of view, and especially during the attachment-dependent buyer’s market we’re dealing with right now, I would almost always recommend attaching a producer at some point before you attempt a sale, because this is the time where you have the most control over who you become involved with. Ideally you find someone whose reputation and work you respect who also believes in you and the project.

If your reps decide to go wide with your spec, most often they will try to attach producers to go into every major buyer. This producer for Studio A, that producer for Studio B, another producer for Studio C, and so on. Why different producers? Because even with studio-producer deals about half what they were 10-15 years ago, studios still want to work with producers they have relationships with. Yes, there are some producers who carry heft with multiple buyers, but generally if your reps do decide to pursue producer attachments – which is almost always – they will try to position your script to represent as strong a package as possible, and that means targeting producers with a deal at an individual studio.

It can all be quite exciting. Script goes out. This producer. That producer. This buyer. That buyer. Names you recognize, movies they made. Wow! Great! But there’s also this:

Do they believe in you and the project?

The reality is a deal could go down and you’ve never even met the producer in question.

Seriously.

This is where you have to balance trusting your reps and trusting your gut. Normally you just want to make a deal and whatever attachments can be made to facilitate that process, you go with that strategic flow. This is more in the trust your rep territory.

However if this spec script is one over which you’ve slaved, sweated blood and pieces of your soul — in other words this is not just a script, but a part of who you are — then this could very well be gut-check time.

What does that mean? At minimum, how about a phone call with the producers who attach themselves to your script? Talk with them about your story. Get a feel for their sensibilities and how they match up with your own. Because the fact is after all the high fives and drinks and dinners and whoops and hollering after there is a deal…

You have to work with these people.

So much of the process is about making a deal. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s plenty of money to be made even if your script that sells never gets produced. Depending upon where you are in your career, the deal may be the most important consideration.

But do we get into this business just to make a deal… or to make movies?

To make the latter happen, we have to do our part which is write the shit out of our stories. Process notes. Rewrite. More notes. More rewriting. Yet somehow through it all keep the vision alive.

And to support that process, we need champions, advocates, and mentors. Producers can fill that role. But only if they ‘get’ our stories and what we’re trying to do.

So to sum up: Attaching a producer to a spec script can be extremely helpful in making a deal. But depending upon your connection to your script and what your ultimate goal is for that story, you may need to call a time-out in the process and say this: “I want to talk with them about my story.”

In other words, your gut may be take precedence over your wallet.

Hopefully that translates into a writer-producer relationship which results in a great script and a movie getting produced.

Next week: Another installment in this series.

UPDATE: Timely guest column in TheWrap from producer Jon Landau.

[Originally posted March 28, 2013]

The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 6]

April 30th, 2015 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the boom, bust, and back again of 1990-2012.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

Part 6: Rolling out a new writer’s spec script

There are multiple ways in which managers and agents take out a spec script, but when it involves a new writer, there can be an additional value in going wide. Check out these observations from Chris Fenton, literary manager and producer of H2F Entertainment from an interview I did with him:

It depends on the script. We’d like to have something that works for both the studios and the financiers, a script that could be a big blown-out studio movie as well as something a little more constrained that can work for financiers with smaller budgets. If we have something like that, I want to introduce that writer and their script to everybody in town. I want to create excitement around a piece of material, make sure the tracking boards are covering the project, and try to get it out to 120 producers, get everybody reading it. Because you never know what can happen with a good piece of material and the right producer. Maybe it doesn’t sell, but it gets that producer thinking about another assignment, creates an opportunity for the writer that way, too. Bottom line the spec market is a fantastic way for getting a new writer to be read.

A lot here. Let’s unpack it:

* First and foremost, everything depends on the script. As Chris said elsewhere in our conversation, “It’s super important for us to be very critical and have a high quality control when it comes to representing writers because every time we sell something, that makes it that much easier to get everybody to read our next writer client and their script, and read them fast to try to make another sale.” This underscores what we discussed in Part 5: No script goes out until it’s ready.

* The desire for writers to craft material that can be sent to both sets of buyers — the major studios and independent financiers — is understandable. As discussed in Part 4, the odds of a deal are much better when dealing with 50-75 buyers than no more than 9 major players. The subtext here is that writers would be wise to don their producer’s hat when conceiving, developing and writing a spec script, one that is cognizant of budgetary issues. If you write a script that can only be produced for $100M or more, you seriously reduce the pool of buyers. If, on the other hand, you create a script that could be made for $30M, but if a major studio wants to step in and lay in all sorts of special effects and set pieces, then you have two sets of buyers.

* 120 producers or whatever the number, the goal here is to get a writer and their material maximum exposure. All it takes is one set of eyeballs to get the script, to become its champion. Moreover, as Chris noted, producers are involved in multiple projects. Perhaps they like what you’ve written and have another script in development they can plug you into. And yes, Hollywood players are in a constant state of motion, moving from this gig to that, that gig to this. Exposing a writer to as many producers and studio execs as possible may not translate into anything specific in the present. On the other hand, if a writer can make connections with multiple players, that increases the odds that at some point in the future, the writer’s name will arise in relation to another project.

* “The spec market is a fantastic way for getting a new writer to be read.” The meaning of that is simple and plain, and should encourage each of us — aspiring screenwriters to professional screenwriters. There is nothing quite like a spec script in terms of its potential to introduce a new writer, redefine an established writer, reawaken the career of a floundering writer, and generate enough heat to translate into a writing assignment or an actual sale.

Next week: Another installment in this series.

[Originally posted March 21, 2013]

The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 5]

April 23rd, 2015 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the boom, bust, and back again of 1990-2012.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

Part 5: Developing the Spec Script

Every screenwriter is different. Some have agents. Some have managers. Some have agents and managers.

Every screenwriter-rep relationship is different, too. Some writers pretty much do their own thing. Some writers work closely with their reps, especially managers. How close? Check out these comments from Chris Fenton, literary manager and producer of H2F Entertainment from an interview I did with him:

We’re blessed with having really talented writers as clients. For the most part, they use us as a sounding board for ideas. We go through them and say, “That one works, that one might not, that one doesn’t seem right for the market right now, what financiers are looking for. That one doesn’t seem very international, but this one seems like you could sell it on a one-sheet, let’s do it.”

From time to time, we find some interesting IP — books, articles, comic books, life stories. We bring those to our writers and see if something excites them. But more often than not, our writers come up with ideas and we help weed through them to focus on the great ones.

When they start writing, a lot of them like us to look at their pages… every 10 pages or every act. Some like to pump out a script and show us the first draft, then we tell them what we like, things we feel need to be altered, whether we think the act structure works, whether the A plots and B plots are all there, whether the story has great low and high points, strong set ups, do we get into the movie quick enough, will execs get engaged or is it drawing out too long… all that kind of stuff.

We like to manage what our writers are writing, but we’re only as good as our writers. We complement their process by helping them craft the best specs possible.

Here is a perspective from Jeremiah Friedman who with his writing partner Nick Palmer sold the spec script “Family Getaway” to Warner Bros., wrote the remake of The Bodyguard, and sold the pitch “Speeding Bullet” to Universal:

Long before you think about selling your spec, you should have a solid idea about what kind of movie you’re writing. You’ll need advice from your reps about which specific buyers might be the best targets for the material since they’ll know what each buyer is looking for in the current market – one studio might have a lot of comedies, but is looking for thrillers for instance or another studio might have a similar project already in development. Your reps should have the inside word on all of that. But before you even sit down to write your script, you should have a strong idea of the story you’re telling and the audience you’re trying to reach. You should know the genre, the size and scope, the strengths and weaknesses of the material. And you should be striving to develop a professional understanding of the marketplace. What types of movies are studios making? What types of movies are other buyers making? What’s the difference between a Warners movie and a Sony movie? Why might your movie be a good fit for Focus?

But as Justin Rhodes (“Second Sun,” “The Breach,” “The Join”) reminds us, screenwriters can and should understand the basics as well:

You’re basically only asking three questions: how easy is it to market, how broad is the appeal, and how much would it cost to make? If the answers are very, very, and a lot, then it’s definitely a studio movie. If the answers are hmmm, I don’t know how it will play in China, and less than fifteen million, then indie financing probably makes more sense (unless it’s a horror movie, which operates in its own space.) Comedy is a genre that can turn this stuff on its head, but again, simplicity of concept and broadness of appeal is probably your answer. Is the concept that people get hungover in Vegas, or that bumbling terrorists have a hard time pulling off their plot? Or, do you have the right attachments to take the project out of indie land.

Bottom line, no script goes out until it’s ready as neither writer nor rep wants to be connected to a sub-par product. That can mean many long months of prep, writing and rewriting.

At some point, your spec is ready. What happens then? Tune in next week where we take an inside look at what can be a simple or quite complex process — bringing a spec script to market.

Let me end with an observation from Chris Fenton:

Original material is the key to success in this town. You have a great script, you control a lot of the levers in the community. So no matter how good or bad the spec market is, writers should always be writing.

[Originally posted March 14, 2013]

The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 4]

April 16th, 2015 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

Three weeks ago in Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

Two weeks in Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

Last week in Part 3, we analyzed the boom, bust, and back again of 1990-2012.

Part 4: The Buyers — Studios and Financiers

We may tend to think of Hollywood buyers as the movie studios: Disney, Paramount, Sony, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, Warner Bros. For those with advanced math skills, that translates into a whopping total of 6. There are subsidiary divisions such as Fox 2000 and Fox Searchlight (Twentieth Century Fox), Focus Features (Universal),  and New Line (Warner Bros.), but those acquisition dollars are presumably part of the overall studio’s pot. We can add Lionsgate to the mix, a so-called mini-major, so let’s say 7. And DreamWorks as long as they have funding which at present they do. Last year Millennium Films acquired 6 spec scripts, more than Twentieth Century Fox, Disney and Lionsgate, so perhaps we throw them into the mix.

So… we’re talking 9 buyers? That’s it?

No, that’s not it. Fortunately for screenwriters and the film community as a whole, there are financing entities like IM Global, Content Film, Between the Eyes, Bold Films, perhaps 50-75 in number who are actively buying, developing and producing movies.

I spoke with manager Chris Fenton, literary manager and producer of H2F Entertainment about the spec market and he gave his thoughts on the state of things with regard to buyers:

The business model is going to continue to change and as it changes, I don’t expect the [spec script] market to get worse than it is now. I would like to believe that it gets a little better, but we’re never going back to the over-development days of the mid-to-late 90s. Not so fortunate for those trying to sell original material, but better in the long run for the health of the major studios.

But there are all these financiers and financier-driven projects we’re having a lot of luck with outside of the studios. Last year, we sold a relatively good amount of projects to the major studios, but then we also sold a lot of stuff to the financiers. And while the financiers don’t necessarily pay a lot of upfront money when they purchase or option a piece of material, they don’t develop a lot either.

So if you actually get one of those companies on board with a script, chances are it gets made, and the deals you can make with these type of financiers are such that if the movie does get produced, sometimes you can actually get a production bonus that might be greater than one at a studio.

In that respect, writers are actually in a strong scenario. They’re setting up a project, and while they’re not making a lot up front, when the movie gets made, they might actually be making more and on top of it, they’re more likely to get a produced film.

And by the way, if you look at it as a business model, you don’t make any money as a studio or as a financier developing material. Where you make the money is actually making the movie and distributing it and getting it out there. That’s what everybody’s goal is now.

What type of projects are these ‘financiers’ buying? It varies from company to company, but I think it’s safe to say there are two commonalities across the board: (1) They are interested in genre films such as Action, Action-Thriller, Thriller, Horror, Horror-Thriller. (2) They tend to focus on lower budget movies as compared to the major studios. By lower budget, think $5-25M. Some may partner up with other financiers to stretch budgets above $30M, even $40M, but those projects have to have major talent attached, super strong marketing potential, and so on.

As you track spec script sales here on GITS, make sure to note the buyers. As I’ve said before many times, the easiest way to sell a spec script is to write what they’re buying. Your understanding of that marketplace can help you assess story concepts you generate so you make smart use of your time as you develop and write your next original screenplay.

Next week, we start looking into the actual process of bringing a spec script to market.

[Originally posted February 28, 2013]

The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.