WHO YOU KNOW: Pat Quinn – Are You Serious About Screenwriting?

Sable Jak is a former actress and dancer and has, like so many other writers, been writing ever since she can remember. She works and writes for Jim French Productions, Inc., is an audio dramatist, a columnist with Absolute Write, has radio mysteries running on Virtually American, and is the author of Writing the Fantasy Film: Heroes and Journeys in Alternate Realities. Follow Sable on Twitter @srjak and check out her site.

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WHO YOU KNOW: Pat Quinn - Are You Serious About Screenwriting? by Sable Jak | Script MagazineOne of the entertainment industry’s busiest women is literary agent Pat Quinn of Paradigm Talent and Literary Agency. In addition to working with talent in the United States and around the globe, Pat has worked with Robert Redford’s Sundance film Institute, was an agent with ICM for five years, and a consultant and speaker for California Lawyers for the Arts. Pat developed prime time network comedy series while vice president of comedy series development at Warner Bros. Television and is currently vice president of the Board of Directors of Women in Film. It took the proverbial “third try” charm to finally catch Pat between appointments for a quick interview for Script Magazine. She was candid, easy to talk with, and happy to share information and experiences.

My first question was how could writers breach the barricades of Hollywood? A writer knows he or she must be persistent, skilled in writing and storytelling, and have a decent degree of luck. That aside, was there anything else needed?

Pat took a little exception to my use of the word, “barricades.”

“There are none,” she told me. “It’s a myth.” She went on to say that, yes, she hears stories about how the business is closed to newer writers, making it impossible to get close to the people who move projects forward. She thoroughly disagrees with this perception. There are, according to her, dozens of ways to meet people in Hollywood; from volunteering as a soccer coach (studio exec’s have kids who play soccer) to getting that ultimate cliché mailroom job. Jobs, volunteer positions, and internships are available all over town in studios, agencies, production companies, and filmmaking support businesses. The concept of “six degrees of separation” is a truism in Hollywood.

Pat says that such jobs and activities are essential as they can give a writer grounding in “The Business.” She stressed this point several times during our conversation: Filmmaking is a business. It is imperative that a writer, especially a newer writer, understands this. He/she needs to know how the business works. Every piece of knowledge learned helps obtain his/her goals. How does one get that knowledge? In addition to volunteering or getting a job in the industry, Pat suggests taking classes in everything from film accounting to editing to acting. She did not suggest film school as a way to learn the business because it doesn’t teach the business. Quinn also recommended reading the following books:

The Script is Finished, Now What Do I Do? by K. Callan
How To Make It In Hollywood by Linda Buzzell
What They Don’t Teach You in Film School, 161 Strategies To Making
Your Own Movie, No Matter What by Camille Landau and Tiare White

She was enthusiastic about all three books and said they gave a good idea as to what is going on in movie making. However, she stated that as good as the books are, they cannot take the place of actual experience of talking with and learning from the people who work within the system itself. A writer cannot lock him or herself away in a room and do nothing but write; he or she has to take an active part in the career they have chosen.

At this point, Pat told me that anyone contemplating a career in screenwriting needs to ask him/herself the following question: “How serious am I about what I want to do?” She rattled off a few of her own:

  • Does the writer only want to sit in some corner of the country and throw scripts at Hollywood in the hope that one gets noticed?
  • Are you thinking that you don’t have to be a part of the whole to be successful, especially at the beginning of a career?
  • Do you think of screenwriting as something that sounds like fun so you’ll give it a try; and if it doesn’t work, you’ll move on?
  • Do you want to be a success in the business or just be able to tell friends at the backyard barbecue you are working on a script?
  • Are you one of those people who have written a couple of scripts and then want to sit around and discuss film theory?

At some point the question has to be asked, “How serious am I about what I want to do?”

I asked Pat how she chooses her clients. She told me the only way she takes on new writers is by “solid” referrals from respected people such as studio executives, managers, entertainment attorneys, producers, etc.

She noted a simple referral wasn’t enough. The referring party had to have read the writer’s work and felt strongly about it. What didn’t work at all, she was quick to tell me, was someone having a cousin somewhere who knew someone else and needed a favor. She works only with established writers. Her criteria for taking on a new writer is based upon the writer’s references, a good body of work and reputation. If a writer is thinking of submitting a query letter to her—don’t. She doesn’t like query letters.

Pat took my initial question of how she chose her clients further and said it was very obvious that the majority of people who approach her haven’t done their much-needed homework. It’s well known she only reps established writers, yet she receives several queries a week from actors asking her to represent them. If a writer is serious, that writer MUST do research when seeking an agent. An agent will know when someone hasn’t, just as Pat knows the actors who send her headshots and resumés haven’t done their research. Also, a writer should never think his/her screenplay is different from all the rest and that an agent will pull it out of the slush pile for the gem that it is.

Gem or not, if it’s in the wrong office, it stays in the pile.

Writers seeking agents today need to realize, according to Pat, that agents are as specialized as doctors are. Some handle writers who only do Jay Leno-type monologue work. Other agents rep writers of reality shows. Some rep spec scripts for unknown writers and some do TV runners.

Originally appeared in Script magazine January, 2002.

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