For those of you who haven’t read Jim Cirile’s article, 10 Big Mistakes … in the September/October edition of Script, definitely check it out. It’s great advice I wish I had heard before my writing partner and I landed our agent a couple years ago. I’ve given some of this very advice to friends on the verge of acquiring managers or agents, but unfortunately only because I learned it through painful experience. If I may, I’d like to add Mistake #11: Know when they ain’t feelin’ it.
Just because you write a spec doesn’t mean your reps are going to hand it out to Will Ferrell. Their name is on the line too. This is something I’ve learned recently based on an experience my writing partner and I had. We wrote a spec a year ago, which received a lackluster response from our agent and manager. They had us do a couple re-writes and ultimately decided to send it out to six companies who already liked us based on our last script they had read. Only six, since the spec market sucked at the time — after all, even specs with big attachments weren’t selling (something your agent says to downplay your hopes when your spec really isn’t that good). All six companies passed on our spec, and our reps never sent it out much beyond that. My partner and I were very frustrated at the time and fell into Jim’s Mistake #7, constantly trying to push a script once it’s been passed on, but I eventually realized what was in our own best interests — and our reps’. As new writers in town, why damage our name with a spec that was most likely not going to sell?
I didn’t learn the lesson fully until recently when my partner and I finished another spec which received a much more enthusiastic response from our reps. They were immediately more willing to send it around internally, and now are already starting to send it out to the industry. So with our spec from last year, it’s not that they didn’t believe in us — they were just looking out for our career. With our current spec, they have confidence they can attach actors, so it’s full-steam ahead. Know when you’ve done your job, and be willing to move on when you missed the mark.
The only mistake that Jim suggests that I take issue with is#10 — “Is your concept sponge … er, movie-worthy?” Basically, he says “can you see it on the marquee?” I don’t think this is always the case. I think a good follow-up article to this one would be “How to deal differently with your manager and your agent.” When my partner and I first began working creatively with our manager, we attempted to impress him by presenting a slew of new loglines, all of which were ultra-high concept and marquee ready. But luckily, he encouraged us to back off because our first sample script that had been read around town had a distinct voice and was more character-based. He knew what execs would be looking for from us, and didn’t want us to fall off track. To me, this is the sign of a great manager. Our current spec is still very marketable (and hopefully will show up on the marquee), but based on his advice, still contains our voice and is grounded in character. We could’ve churned out some real crap had we been encouraged to simply write for the marquee. However, I still think Mistake #10 is good advice if you can find the right balance and you have the right guidance from your rep. What do you think?