Posted tagged ‘attachments’

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.