Jon James Miller is a screenwriter, novelist and frequent online presenter. His first novel, a historical fiction based on an original screenplay, will be published Spring 2015. For more information, go to: www.jonjamesmiller.com Follow Jon on Twitter @jonjimmiller.
Literary Manager and Producer Kevin Cleary of Pooka Entertainment is an expert when it comes to packaging and selling TV miniseries. He’s seen the format explode the last several years and knows what it takes to sell projects in a wide range of subjects. That’s because over the last twelve years, Cleary has shopped and or sold miniseries about the life of Johnny Carson, The Texas Rangers, the lost city of Roanoke, Ancient Amazons, the building of the Hoover Dam and many more. But like so many other successful professionals in the film industry, his journey has been a fascinating and at times circuitous one.
Cleary’s experience with miniseries started back in 2002, when he was a literary/feature film packaging agent. A client sent him a manuscript for a biography being published the following year about the life of astronaut Neil Armstrong, called One Giant Leap by Leon Wagener.
“I thought it would make a great feature film,” Cleary says. “So I started to shop the book to major studios and producers. I thought it was a no-brainer. Many buyers in Hollywood had been looking for patriotic themed projects after 9/11. During this time I also sold the project that came to be titled World Trade Center, a film directed by Oliver Stone and starring Nicolas Cage. I thought One Giant Leap was perfect. Plus it had a great role for an A-List actor.”
But as Cleary started to pitch the project around town, he began to hear a familiar refrain:
“I was hearing the same response over and over from producers and studio executives. They would look at me and say, “Well, Apollo 13 has been made already.” And I would reply, “But my guy gets to the moon! He doesn’t just drive by. He walks around, plays a little golf, and comes back home the most famous man in the world.” They could not see the difference. And Apollo 13 is a great film. Directed by Ron Howard and written by Al Reinert and William D. Broyles Jr. It was based on Jim Lovell’s and Jeffrey Kluger’s book Lost Moon. It’s a great movie. A great film leaves a big impression on buyers. Now here I was eight years later asking them to forget it.”
Not one to ever quit, Cleary kept on pushing the project he knew in his heart had the right stuff. And he did get interest. But from producers who wanted to end the heroic story of the first man on the moon before it really began.
“They wanted to end the story when Neil and the Apollo 11 crew got back from the moon,” Cleary remembers. “And as far as I was concerned that’s when the story got really interesting. Neil came back from the moon the most famous man in the world and a lot of people wanted a piece of him. Nixon almost made him his Vice Presidential candidate. NASA wanted to make him their #2 but without power and authority. Every company and ad agency wanted him to endorse their products. And he said no and walked away from all of it. He went back to his home state of Ohio and taught engineering for the rest of his life.”
For Cleary, the guy who doesn’t cash in was more interesting than a guy who does. But movie producers told him they simply couldn’t tell the whole story in a 2-hour feature film. And that note stuck with him.
“That got me thinking about where we could tell the whole story,” he says, “ and like Melanie Griffith in the film Working Girl I had my “Trask-Radio” moment – Make it a miniseries. That thought started me down a path that has led to many deals over the years for Television miniseries.”
Because of his undaunted persistence and belief in the project, Kevin Cleary prevailed and One Giant Leap was purchased by TNT earlier this year, on which he will be a producer. And miniseries are now one of Cleary’s favorite formats to work in, develop and sell. Even better, he’s willing to share everything he knows about the current state of the TV miniseries marketplace, what a project needs to garner serious consideration from buyers at the network and studio level; how executives evaluate projects they are pitched and even the areas, genres and categories today’s executives want to buy and develop. Cleary’s webinar for The Writers Store, “How To Develop, Sell and Write a Television Mini-Series” details what steps a writer can take so they have the best shot at selling the next big TV miniseries.