Another post in the continuing saga of my experiences at the Screenwriting Expo this past weekend…
Today I’m excited to relay some excellent advice and industry insight from some Agents whose sessions I attended:
- Victoria Wisdom, former partner at BWK
- Emile Gladstone, ICM
- Bob Hohman, Gersh
Just like my friend Michele Wallerstein, the first thing you notice about a successful Agent is that they’re all extremely high functioning and assertive. If you ever have an opportunity to meet with an Agent, make sure you’ve had a full night’s sleep, a double shot of Espresso, and are firing on all cylinders… or you simply won’t be able to keep up.
Wisdom (her real name), has a commanding presence that makes you sit up and pay attention.
Gladstone looks like Peter Parker, has an I.Q. that’s obviously north of 140, and is probably Kaiser Soze.
Hohman (the least intimidating of the bunch), made a joke in passing about his being a savant. (He probably wasn’t joking.)
After searching for some web links, I found Wisdom’s web site. I also found a great article/interview by Jim Cirile (who hosted one of the panel discussions) that features Gladstone. Be sure to read through these two sources for some of the same tips that were offered during their Screenwriting Expo sessions.
And now, without further ado, I present…
The Top 20 Agents Tips
Note: The following insights are my interpretations of what the Agents said. Any errors or omissions are purely my own.
- The commercial market for films is about 70% overseas, and 30% for U.S. and Canada. That means you need to think about whether or not your movie will “travel well” — because the ones that do are the most likely to get made. Get global; write a story that’s universally understood.
- It’s dangerous to follow trends as a benchmark for deciding what movie to write next. However, if you’re trying to sell a script, it pays to reference current script sales and how they are relevant to your movie.
- Pitch the concept, not the plot. Pitch the concept in such a way that the story sells itself. Hollywood is very template-based. That’s why coming up with a concept that’s the “same, but different” is so important; something that can be summarized in a quick pithy line that Producers/Execs can understand. For example, the quick sell for The Bourne Identity is: “James Bond with amnesia.” Source Code is: “Groundhog Day with a sci-fi twist.”
- Do your homework on three things: 1) What are studios buying? 2) What are they making? 3) What was successful?
- Packaging (attaching an actor or director to your movie) is good for getting a movie sold, but not necessarily for getting a movie made.
- Often you’ll have to do multiple drafts of a script, simply to appease the Actors, Producers, Directors, Executives, etc…. knowing full well that some of these drafts will never see the light of day.
- If you’re a writer that wants any semblance of control, you should write a TV pilot. In TV, writers are the “directors” (i.e. they have the creative control). Film, is a director’s medium.
- If you want to sell a script, figure out which production companies are making the movies that are most like yours, then get in touch with the lowest Creative Executive on the totem pole, and try to get them to read it.
- Best selling scripts: Tentpole, High Concept, Genre-bending
- These days Hollywood uses a “P & L” (Profit and Loss) risk assessment to determine whether or not a movie can be made. He cited an example of a movie that the studio wants to make, has an A-list actor attached, but that they can’t get made because it doesn’t satisfy the risk profile.
- The number one job of an Agent is to explain showbusiness to the client. (i.e. What Hollywood is buying, what just sold two weeks ago that’s exactly the same concept as yours, why you shouldn’t write that period piece, etc.)
- You need more than one script to show that you’re a writer.
- You’re in the business of making things up. Don’t write strictly personal stories that are only powerful because they happened to you.
- Don’t write your script alone and think you’re done. Generate fans of your work. Managers, Producers — they are all friends to help you write your screenplay and get it sold.
- TV is more concerned about a compelling idea than a script. Often networks won’t even read a script before they start developing. TV loves development (opposite of movies).
- For writing assignments, there’s no work in the middle pay bracket right now. So A-List writers are working and C-List writers are working.
- Aspiring screenwriters should have jobs with zero responsibility, while they’re trying to establish themselves. Save your brainpower for your screenplay.
- Always exceed expectations (e.g. If you’re given 10 days for a rewrite, get it done in 8).
- Unlike film, Cable channels will buy a pitch from someone who’s not famous. They’ll just pair them with an established showrunner.
- Most of his clientele who are making money are in their 50’s. Alvin Sargent is 83 years old and gainfully employed. It may be a youth-driven industry, but really it’s all about your energy.
Did you attend any of the Agent sessions? What was the best advice you heard?
Tomorrow’s Edition: Pitching Advice and Horror Stories…
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