Adam Jay Epstein is from New York. Andrew Jacobson is from Wisconsin. They came to Hollywood over a decade ago to be interns during a summer off from college. After meeting in a parking lot at UCLA, they became friends and started a writing partnership that would plant them in L.A., permanently, living just four blocks from each other. Their high-concept ideas would become so powerful, they’d soon be sitting across the table of producer Sam Raimi. The director of Spider-Man movie fame along with Disney took interest in Epstein and Jacobson’s superhero pitch called The Transplants. The story revolves around three ordinary guys who discover their recent organ transplants have come from a deceased superhero. When the evil villain wreaks havoc on the city, it’s up to them to save the day. Script sat down with the dynamic duo to hear how they went from pitch to script in a single bound.
SCRIPT: What gave you the idea for the script?
ANDREW JACOBSON: We had this idea for a long time. We actually pitched it in the very first meeting we ever had with a manager. They said, “Come in with 10 ideas,” and that was one of them.
ADAM JAY EPSTEIN: It was the only one that ever got made or sold (laughs). At the time, people didn’t do original superhero movies. That was in 2000. And, it remained an issue for years, for so long that we developed The Transplants into a comic book with DC Comics. That was until we pitched it to Sam Raimi’s company. They leapt at the idea, and we ended up developing it with them for a while before they pitched it to Disney.
SCRIPT: What is it like to develop a script with a team of producers and studio execs giving you notes?
ADAM JAY EPSTEIN: As a writer, you must balance the notes. You are trying to please the executives and the producers, so that even if your project doesn’t move forward, you’ve made fans and they can hire you and keep you in mind for other projects. While The Transplants hasn’t gotten made yet, Sam Raimi’s company came aboard to produce the book series (The Familiars, another Epstein and Jacobson film about a trio of animal companions who go on an adventure to rescue their wizards), in part because we already had an excellent experience with them on The Transplants. Being amicable and cooperative is amazingly beneficial to your career.
ANDREW JACOBSON: That’s true, but you also have to be true to your voice. And your passion. You’ve got to be willing to give more than you’re going to take and still make it the best you’re going to make it, while incorporating all these different ideas. There are politics and conflicting notes. Sometimes the note-giver isn’t thinking of the domino effect when it unravels in the story. Once you’re in the room on your computer, you’re seeing the thread unwind and you’re the one responsible.
ADAM JAY EPSTEIN: They might have an idea that sounds fantastic, and it makes one scene brilliant, but then that affects the rest of the movie. Lately, we’ve been very fortunate to work with very talented people and it makes our jobs much easier.
SCRIPT: What is it like to work with a partner?
ANDREW JACOBSON: Our partnership is unique in that we write together in the same room every day from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. I sit in front of the computer and Adam sits in a chair. We both talk all day long.
ADAM JAY EPSTEIN: And this is how we write our novels as well. It’s very unusual. A lot of TV writers co-write like this, some film writers do it, but there are almost no novelists who do it. Most people pass drafts. Finding someone that speeds you up rather than slows you down is the key to finding a good partner.
ANDREW JACOBSON: And someone who gets your butt in the chair every day. It’s the single hardest part of being a writer.
SCRIPT: What’s your advice to aspiring screenwriters?
ANDREW JACOBSON: I’m a huge proponent of a big high concept idea that you can pitch in one sentence and pitch up the ladder. Imagine you are in Kansas… You are going to have to get an assistant or an intern at an agency or management company to read a query letter, and that query letter is the thing that’s going to get your script read by that intern. If I’m that intern, I’m going to pick the one that sounds like the most commercial, sellable, pitchable idea — because I’m going to have to give it to my boss. If you can tell your idea in a way that is going to grab that person on the other side to get the script to the top of the pile, and if you’re lucky enough to get it passed up to their boss, you’re going to have a much better chance.
ADAM JAY EPSTEIN: And I also know that Andrew will always look at the page count. Wouldn’t you be less hesitant to read an 105 page script than an 125 page script?
ANDREW JACOBSON: Everyone in Hollywood is going to flip to the last page to see how long the script is that they’re about to read. You’ll have a little bit of extra good will if it’s 104 pages. That and you want to make sure the first 10 pages are the best 10 pages of the script. Make sure if it’s an action movie, you have something exciting in the first 10 pages. If it’s a comedy, have something funny. If it’s a drama, make sure it’s something that grabs you by the throat.
ADAM JAY EPSTEIN: Reading scripts is really important. When you’re right at the beginning, you hear a lot of people that say writing is “rewriting.” That’s very true, but there are a lot of writers who get bogged down in that one script. They write that one script over and over again, so much so, they don’t know if it’s good anymore. Part of growing is putting the first script down and writing a second one. That one is almost always universally going to be better than the first.
ANDREW JACOBSON: I think reading screenplay books, watching movies, going to screenplay support groups are all just different forms of procrastination. I want to say, limit yourself to one hour of those things a week. Devote the rest of it to writing.
SCRIPT: What’s next for you guys?
ANDREW JACOBSON: Our book project The Familiars is going to be our big priority for the next three years.
ADAM JAY EPSTEIN: We’re not writing specs anymore. I’m sure you’ve read a lot of things that say the spec market is dead in Hollywood. We’re writing books, and we’re going to continue to pitch and do rewrite assignments, but that’s how we’re introducing new material.
SCRIPT: How did the deal for The Familiars transpire?
ANDREW JACOBSON: We came up with the idea for The Familiars two years ago. We thought it was a great idea for a book. “Familiars” are animal companions to wizards and witches. In our story, when the wizards are kidnapped by an evil queen, their familiars go on an adventure of their own to rescue them. We ended up writing the first five chapters of the book, and we were able to sell it to Harper Collins for a trilogy of books. Soon after that we sold the movie rights to Sony Animation for us to write the screenplay.