Archive for the ‘Advice from an Executive’ category

Why Letters of Intent Don’t Work

April 6, 2010

One of my favorite film bloggers, Jeff Steele, has a lovely piece in The Wrap about why, if you are a producer, you shouldn’t bother trying to lock down a letter of intent from a star.

Assuming you, reading this right now at your desk while possibly wearing sweatpants, are not a producer trying to get Rob Pattinson to commit to your independent romantic drama, it’s still interesting reading. Producers and screenwriters often fall into the same trap of believing that if they have a recognizable talent attached to a project, the project will be easier to set up with a buyer. The opposite is true: buyers typically few an attached actor or director as a liability, not an asset.

As for letters of intent, they are inherently meaningless when you’re dealing with an indie. If a buyer wants to go after a big star for a project, they will get on the horn with that star’s representatives and hammer out a deal that way. Getting a celebrity to vocally endorse your project can raise interest in the project itself, but the celebrity’s agents and managers don’t like it — why tie up a bankable star with a million-dollar project when they could be going after tens of millions of dollars scoring a part in a tentpole studio film?

Anyway, Jeff Steele says it better than I could:

Actors are paid to act; any agent can tell you that the script is the least important part to them. When it comes to the principal cast (upon which the sales and financing are predicated), unless I can call the agent or manager directly myself and verify, there is no real attachment. The exception being a Spielberg or a Scorsese, whose stature in the industry could reasonably facilitate any star interest.

I had a project recently where the director was lifelong friends with a breakout star, who had committed to doing the film. The agency was noncommittal. Why? Because the agency didn’t want to tie up a month of the actor’s time for a measly million bucks, when they could be getting 5-10x that from a studio for the same timeslot. A lot of money and time was spent pre-selling territories and shoring up the financing, only to have the star drop out, under CAA’s (er, I mean a random agency’s) pressure.

So don’t kill yourself wondering if your project would become more viable if you could only score five minutes of an A-lister’s time in the gym locker room or in line at Starbucks. Focus on getting the buyer interested instead.


Facts on Pacts — Which Producers Still Have Deals at Studios?

March 22, 2010

It used to be very common for a production company to strike a first-look, overhead or distribution deal with a studio. This symbiotic relationship helped both entities — the studio got first crack at any material the production company was developing, while the producers became privy to various benefits such as having their overhead costs covered, space on a studio lot tout of which to run their offices, a better shot at selling their product, etc. In the best of times, some studios had dozens upon dozens of producer deals.

But when the tides of the economy shifted, all that changed. Producer deals are costly, and they stopped making sense — why pay for contracts with fifteen different producer teams when you’re only releasing ten or twenty pictures each year? Thus the Facts on Pacts chart, released annually by Daily Variety to break down what producers have deals with what studios, is much more modest now than it used to be.

Even so, it’s a good resource and worth checking out to see which producers, in the minds of studio execs, are still worth taking a gamble on. Some have a solid history of producing profitable films (like Jon Turtletaub for Disney); others they have a good relationship with the studio (like BenderSpink for New Line); still others are former studio execs who have been shunted into producer deals to maintain good faith (Unique Features for Warner Bros.).

Before You Burn out on “Hurt Locker” talk, Read this Article

March 9, 2010

Film Closings is a great blog, and its most recent article is a truly interesting insider look at how “The Hurt Locker” found financing, against all odds. To give you a taste:

Nicolas loves the “Hurt Locker” script, phones back and against all experience and precedent, tells CAA – the agency repping the film – that not only will he take on this Iraqi war movie to acquire the foreign pre-sales, but he wants to help in producing it. The subject matter, he tells them, speaks to him.

There is one small problem, Nicolas believes that, even at $20 million, the budget is too high — it must be lowered substantially, slashed by some 35% to $13 million, in order for him to be able to sell it and stand any chance of making a profitable film. CAA agrees. The budget will be lowered, line by painful line, in hopes they can still maintain the quality production values worthy of a theatrical release.

I always tell writers to be aware of what genre they’ve chosen to write in (you’d be surprised how many don’t know), and even more importantly, to be aware of the challenges of selling a project in that particular genre. War movies are perpetually difficult to sell — even well written ones with solid attachments like “The Hurt Locker.” Financiers want guarantees — and in Hollywood, there are no guarantees to be had. The result is a paradoxical situation, a mire into which many a hopeful script falls and very few completed films ever emerge.

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The Black List

December 12, 2009

Ah, it’s the annual release of the Black List, Hollywood’s unofficial list of the best unproduced scripts of the past calendar year. Executives are polled anonymously about their favorites, and it’s all compiled into a document that includes the title, author’s name, a logline, and representation. (Plus the status of the project.)

Short story is, this list began circulating a few years back and has now become widely known within the industry as a shorthand guide to recognizing up-and-coming writers and great new scripts from established writers. Rather than simply being a way to pay these guys on the back, the Black List has actually taken on new significance. Young, hungry execs are expected to know the names of every writer boasting a script in the top 10. Even if you’ve never had a produced movie in your life, having your name appear on the Black List can give you a newfound cache because it means you didn’t just come up with a good idea — you wrote a good script, too. That means you might be a good choice to write other projects.

For the fledgling writer, the Black List is a valuable resource for many reasons. For one, it’s always useful to see examples of loglines. It’s difficult to explain to someone how to write a good log, but easy to show them what one looks like. For another, it helps you become familiar with the names of young agents and managers who represent the authors. These are the guys you’d like to rep your script one day. Finally, the Black List is a good cheat sheet to show you what’s getting attention in the marketplace these days (hint: thrillers, comedy and more thrillers).

The Black List’s top 11

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