Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reps: Make a Good First Impression

Last week, I met with a manager. 20 minutes later, he asked to read my script. Here's how I did it:

I sat in the agency's nice little lobby for a while as the manager wrangled a conference and then another call that all went overlong before meeting with me. If you've dealt with any rep before, this is to be expected. I read in the trades that while I was celebrating the 4th of July, this agency won a bidding war on optioning a bestselling book. These are busy people.

After a while, the manager's assistant offered me water and escorted me to the manager's office -- which was a nerd's candy store. Graphic novels. Collectible action figurines. Posters of your favorite Sci-Fi movies signed by the writers. I gravitated right towards a Star Wars book when the manager came in and we got to geek out about Comic Con a bit before he asked:

"So tell me -- What's your story? What's your journey?"

Every up-and-coming writer needs to be ready for this question.

Remember, this is not lunch with your friends, nor is it a business interview. You can't blather on about your cat for 5 minutes and neither can you recite the bullet points of your resume. You have to strike a balance between a fun, casual conversation and telling your own superhero origin story with gusto. What radioactive bug bit you and made you a writer?

The trick is to prepare an answer for this question -- a blurb that sums up your "brand." Are you the next Tim Burton or the next Charlie Kaufman? Do you write gothic fairy tales or mind-bending character dramas? What's your genre or niche? Put your starving artist ideals down for a moment and remember that you're talking to a manager -- and that rep is hoping, praying you can answer his real question: "Can I sell this kid?"

So have an answer ready and timed out to 30-120 seconds. Focus your origin story to answer questions about who you are, where you come from, and what draws you to your brand. If you love writing crime thrillers, why? And what has happened in your life that would give you any kind of authority to write in that genre/niche? Also, don't forget to point to your successes -- awards, festivals, film school, etc. all help a rep think you're a horse worth betting on.

I say without shame that I wrote out this 120-second blurb, rewrote it, tweaked it, polished it, and rehearsed it until it was second nature -- and then let the meeting follow its natural course. The manager interrupted my blurb (a good thing!) to ask about being a Coca-Cola Refreshing Filmmaker Finalist, and I told him about producing a short film in a blizzard -- so have that amusing anecdote ready for all potential questions for your career's highlights.

Then I wrapped up my little blurb with the desire to make it as a script doctor.

And then the manager did a wonderful thing: he offered me sound advice for an emerging writer.

He broke the bad news lightly that the script doctor jobs for emerging writers no longer exist. After the Writer's Strike coupled with the recession, all the A-list writers have lowered their quotes to B-list prices, and the B-list writers have lowered their quotes to C-list prices, etc.

In other words, making a good chunk of change as the new writer on the block, hungry for work, no longer attracts studio and development executives anymore... since they can get a rewrite on their baby project by an already-established writer for the same bargain basement price.

So what to do?

Here's the honest truth: Most represented emerging writers have day jobs. They work with their manager/agent to take the best of the writer's script ideas and combine them with the rep's spec market know-how to come up with a great script that will sell 12 weeks from now.

Then the writer goes home and writes and writes and writes and finally sells that spec script. What next? The writer goes home and writes and writes and finally sells another spec script.

Then this writer has the experience, connections, and capacity to make their first feature.

In short, here's a manager's advice to up-and-coming writer/directors:
  • Get a steady day job.
  • Write spec scripts in your off hours.
  • Make whatever connections will lead you to a manager/agent's office.
  • Write and network until you sell TWO scripts to established buyers.
  • Then Hollywood will start asking you to direct their movies...
Then the manager gave more advice if you want to make an indie first feature instead:
  • The low-budget feature is the new short film.
  • Indie films are cheaper to make nowadays (and studio films are too expensive to risk an untested director), Hollywood scouts for talent at festivals
  • Before you sink thousands into your first feature, make your story UNIVERSAL
Think of Taken. Your daughter has been kidnapped by sex traffickers and you will kick ass and take names until you get her back. Audiences in Shanghai, Sao Paulo, and Sri Lanka will want to see that movie. Will audiences around the world really want to see your mumblecore quarter-life crisis auto-biopic? Tell your story but with a universal premise.

That's all a lot easier said than done, right? But I resolve to take up his advice and I will keep you all updated as to whatever I learn along this journey to work all day, write all night, and meet more agents and managers until my first feature comes along.

So right after the manager gave me his advice, he tried to cheer me up by saying that spec market is very hungry for all kinds of thrillers these days -- political thrillers, gritty Taken-esque spy thrillers, Luc Besson girls kicking ass thrillers --

I chimed in, "I have one of those" and hit him with the logline to my girl-power action thriller.

He said that my script sounds great, asked me to email it to him, and after he allowed me to ask a few questions (have those smart questions ready!) the meeting ended soon after that.

So there you have it! The anatomy of meeting a rep. Hope that helps you readers when you nab your first manager meeting!

(For those of you curious about crafting manager-ready loglines, I'll cover that next week).

Looking for more tales of emerging artists in Hollywood? Look no further:
  • The Last Blog I'll Ever Start is written by good friend Jessica Marie Sutherland who's now a paid, working screenwriter only a year or so out of USC film school.
  • The Scene Partner is written by another friend and classmate Nina Harada who is moving on up in the world as an emerging actress.
  • For those of you looking to make that first feature, but wondering how in the hell to do it, check out the new MovieMaker blog Just Crowdfund the $&*# Movie!
Now to get myself a day job...

1 comment:

  1. It's funny how we parallel each other so much sometimes-- I just started working and re working my 30-120 second blurb of my "brand" too! I've definitely been asked that question before, from a talent agent who at the time was way out of my league, and I was not prepared to answer it. You bet I wont let that happen again!!

    So awesome you got that meeting AND that he asked to read your script- congrats!!

    (and thanks for the plug!)