On Hollywood: Death of a Manager

For new screenwriters, one of the hardest things to do is get representation in Hollywood. Without a manager or agent, your chances of selling a script are pretty slim. It took me years to get a manager with real connections, but one ill-advised email ruined that relationship overnight.

My former manager’s death last week was written about in entertainment blogs because she is credited with “discovering” Quentin Tarantino and repped him for 10 years. Her name was Cathryn Jaymes, but in all our email correspondence, she was just “CJ.”

She was the antithesis of Tarantino — didn’t curse or use profanity, proud of her “midwestern values.” Very close to her father, who was a minister. Very loyal to her clients and business associates as well…

The loyalty thing was a big issue with her. As recounted in Jane Hamsher’s “Killer Instinct” book about Tarantino and the making of NATURAL BORN KILLERS, Cathryn was dumped by QT after he made it big. He became a client of the powerful William Morris Agency (in fact, CJ told me she introduced him to the WMA agent he signed with).

His rationale was CJ’s job was to launch his career, and he saw no need to continue paying her 15 percent of whatever he made. Since agents get 10 percent and entertainment lawyers also get a piece of the pie, you can see why he might jettison a small-time player like CJ… except one could argue he wouldn’t have had a career if not for her belief in his talent, back when Tarantino was a young actor working in a video store.

The details of how she helped him succeed are told in “Rebels on the Backlot” by Sharon Waxman, who now runs http://www.TheWrap.com. I tipped off Sharon that CJ was near death after getting a Google Alert link to a Twitter message from Hawaii-born actor Mark Dacascos: Cathryn had inoperable tumors and was preparing for the end.

I met Mark a few years ago, when he came back to Honolulu for a showing of the film, ONLY THE BRAVE. Cathryn had arranged that meeting, and I was thrilled because I admired his work in the French film, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (check it out on Netflix!) and also was a fan of the TV show, IRON CHEF AMERICA (he plays the Chairman — not quite as flamboyant as the first Chairman in the original Japanese series though).

One reason CJ took me on as a client was that she was searching for movie projects Mark could star in. As fate would have it, I had written a family-friendly adventure script about the Menehune — the mythical little people of Hawaii. My pitch was sent out to hundreds of agents, managers and producers via an e-query service, and landed in her email box…

Cathryn immediately replied and said she’d like to read the script. When I Googled her name, I was astonished to learn this was the same manager I read about in “Killer Instinct.” The book said she stuck by QT even when everyone in Hollywood was rejecting his scripts. I wrote in my journals that I wanted a rep like her. And thanks to the internet, she was actually contacting me!

I proceeded to pitch other completed screenplays to her, which she was also interested in. Often, you never hear back from agents or managers if they don’t think they can immediately sell that script. Managers tend to be more forgiving and take a more active role in developing new writers… just as CJ nurtured Tarantino’s talents, along with his friends Craig Hamann and Roger Avary.

About a month or two later, I got a phone call from Cathryn on Super Bowl Sunday 2004. She was coughing, sniffling, and I could barely hear her because she talks quietly. The long distance connection between Studio City and Kailua, Hawaii wasn’t great either. She said she loved my MENEHUNES script and wanted to rep me. I thought I was on my way, finally, after years of writing and coming close on selling other scripts without a rep.

But it didn’t work out the way I planned. That first call may have been foreshadowing. Illness was a problem — she later told me she had recovered from cancer, yet she continued to smoke cigarettes. Then her father was dying, and for months she spent weekends commuting to San Diego from L.A. to be at his bedside. After his death, she battled depression. Still, she continued to tell me she believed in my writing talent and said my imagination was “unparalleled” — high praise that kept me going despite my self-doubts.

During that period, there were communication problems. Option contracts I was supposed to review and sign weren’t forwarded to me. Follow-up calls to producers weren’t made. I had no idea if she sent out my stuff to people she was going to contact on my behalf. She wasn’t replying to my emails, nor emails of another client of hers that I knew.

After two years of working with her and nothing to show for it, I sent an email to another screenwriter who once was repped by Cathryn. He was still good friends with her, and had some success writing for TV and films. She had asked him to give me notes on two of my scripts, so I knew she respected his opinion.

I put “Confidential” in the subject line and asked the writer if I could talk to him about Cathryn. Since he knew her on a personal and professional level, I felt he could give me an honest assessment of her health and state of mind before I started looking for a new rep.

Somehow that email got forwarded to CJ! He claims he didn’t do it. Maybe it was accidentally sent by him (I checked and it wasn’t me). In any event, she took it very personally, and accused me of being disloyal by questioning her abilities to do her job.

In hindsight, I should have just talked to her directly about my concerns. Worse, I hurt her feelings, and I regret that. I offered apologies and sent letters to explain my actions when she wouldn’t return my calls.

The irony is I had hoped one day she would be talking to Sharon Waxman about her Next Big Find: me. Instead, it was me telling Sharon that CJ was dying. Here’s the link to the piece Sharon wrote about her:


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One Comment on “On Hollywood: Death of a Manager”

  1. richfigel Says:

    Here’s another blog post about CJ by producer Don Murphy, who is no fan of Tarantino because of what happened with the NATURAL BORN KILLERS movie project.

    Sadly, the comments took a nasty turn when QT fanboys started making anonymous remarks about Murphy and he fired back in his usual blunt, profane style:


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