Posted tagged ‘hollywood managers’

JELLO: THE MOVIE

May 13, 2010

Originally, the title for this post was “Takes Talent to Recognize It.” Then I read a piece by Hollywood producer Lynda Obst that basically says the movie biz is no longer really about finding talented writers or high quality scripts. It’s now largely about building on brand awareness — super-heroes, comic books, old TV shows, popular board games, video games, and YouTube clips that go viral.

She said a colleague jokingly floated JELLO: THE MOVIE as a possible project. Sadly, it’s no worse than some of the other product-inspired movies that are currently in development. I even pitched my STUNT GUYS action spec to a creative exec at Hasbro — yes, the toy makers are now major players in Hollywood. He passed because he didn’t see the merchandising potential in my stuntmen characters. Probably because I didn’t imbue them with super-powers.

Lynda Obst’s column (link at end of post) is getting traction because she’s been associated with big Hollywood hits such as FLASHDANCE, SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, THE FISHER KING, and CONTACT. More recently, she produced THE INVENTION OF LYING, a movie I liked and riffed on in a prior post about writers being professional liars. She’s also had her share of flops. But when a producer with her track record says good writing is now secondary to product awareness, it has to make any aspiring screenwriter wonder if they’ve just been wasting time trying to become glorified advertising copywriters.

That said, I still believe in learning craft and structure. I’ve been fortunate to receive feedback from produced screenwriters, who liked my stuff enough to option my scripts. I’ve also been repped or hip-pocketed by managers whose clients have written hugely successful movies, and gotten notes from them on my work. And to tell you the truth, I’m not sure my rewrites were really better than my original drafts, which were closest to my own vision.

(BTW, my former manager — Cathryn Jaymes — said when she first sent out Quentin Tarantino’s scripts to her contacts, she would get nasty phone calls asking how she could rep such awful, foul-mouthed “garbage”… then after his movies became hits with critics and audiences, those same people were begging her to send whatever else he had written.)

The one thing I took comfort in was the notion that these were professionals who recognized talent. I don’t know who first said it takes genius to recognize it, but I always felt there was something to that. Okay, so I’m not a genius… I’m more of a plodder, who works hard at the craft. Still, I thought my movie ideas were different and original. And these Hollywood veterans I was working with seemed to think so too. At the end of the day though, my scripts didn’t get produced and I’m looking for a new rep to shop my works of genius.

I’m not alone. I know there are many other writers who have had similar experiences, and feel like they’ve been both blessed and cursed to be told they have “talent” or a unique “voice”… and yet can’t get an agent or publisher to sign them. There are days when I think it would be so much easier if early on I was told my stuff was crap and I should give up. Then I realize that, well, if one person honestly did think my writing was worth their time, I should keep at it a little longer. It only takes one person — at the right place and time — to prove everyone else wrong.

However, no amount of rewriting, revisions, getting feedback from peers or notes from professional script consultants, is going to make much difference if your concept or story doesn’t have that something special — you know it when you see it. At least, that’s the way it used to be. But these days, it seems like the so-called “talent agents” and creative execs are more adept at reading financial reports than literary works.

So write for yourself if you must. Then write JELLO: THE MOVIE if you really want to be a working screenwriter for hire.

Here’s the link to The Atlantic piece by Lynda Obst.

As I mentioned, she produced THE INVENTION OF LYING. This is my take on that film as it relates to writers.

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On Hollywood: Death of a Manager

January 12, 2010

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:

http://www.thewrap.com/quentin-tarantino-movies-cathryn-jaymes-12637