Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Dear Film Friends,

I often get asked by screenwriters about best practices for working with a film producer or literary manager -- I've served as the former for nearly two decades and was the latter for eight years in a previous life. With so much interest in this subject, I decided to write an article on the topic, which Funds for Writers recently published on their website. As such, I thought I would also include it here on my blog for those who might have missed it. I hope it provides all you up-and-coming writers with some real insights as you work your way up the Hollywood ladder.



Best Practices for Working with a Producer,
Agent or Manager in Film & TV

By Mark Heidelberger

Producers. Agents. Managers. Oh my! As a writer looking to make a living in the world of entertainment, these sometimes enigmatic creatures will be an integral part of your journey from unproduced novice to sought-after scribe du jour. Learning to work with them in a way that proves mutually beneficial means creating a winning environment for both sides, creatively and economically. (That’s why we call it “show business” and not “show show.”) And while no step-by-step guidebook exists for doing this because no two individuals are alike, I can suggest a handful of best practices that neophyte writers should keep in mind as they find themselves seeking these useful and often necessary allies.

First off, let’s clarify some basic definitions of each role so we know exactly who we’re talking about.

Producer – The chief visionary of a production who hires a writer to create a story or buys and develops her already written story with the ultimate intention of filming it for mass consumption.

Agent – A commission-based representative who is solely responsible for seeking out and procuring work for the writer or selling the writer’s material.

Manager – A commission-based representative who is tasked with guiding a writer’s career choices, developing her work for presentation to producers, coordinating her other representatives such as agents and lawyers, and facilitating opportunities, but not actively selling the work as an agent would.

Collectively, we’ll call them PAMs.

Get a Referral

Not only do most PAMs dislike being pitched without an invitation, especially by a stranger, they flat out refuse to even read or listen. Such pitching is called unsolicited and it’s frowned upon, not only because most PAMs are already inundated with material, but because it’s a legal liability. Hollywood is a relationship town, plain and simple, so getting a referral from someone the PAMs already know and trust is a universally accepted method for soliciting their attention.

Be Clear on the Deal Terms

PAMs who recognize your talent and want to work with you can feel rewarding, but don’t let that excitement cloud your judgment. Negotiate terms you can live with, get it in writing and have those terms reviewed by an expert who can verify that they are, at minimum, in line with industry standards. If the terms are not satisfactory to you, don’t be afraid to walk away. Anyone offering you terms outside of industry standards probably aren’t legitimate anyway.

Trust the Process

Respected PAMs achieved their status through years of experience, and while their methods may at times seem unconventional, trust that they bring knowledge of the industry that has been, until now, obscured from you. This isn’t to suggest you take a passive approach, but simply to accept guidance from those who have been around the business far longer than you.

Communication is King

Create a fluid system of communication from the outset. Establish the best method of contact, a regular schedule for corresponding, and what the goal of your collaboration will be. Clarify on a regular basis what you expect from your representative or what the producer expects from you. Moreover, respect their time and skill just as you want yours respected. Stand up for yourself without being combative. And pick your battles carefully.

Manage Expectations

Entertainment is one of the most competitive career landscapes in the world. “Overnight success” stories never happen overnight; they’re the result of years of unseen toiling in trenches. Accept the fact that you’ll always have to do a lot of legwork yourself, even with a PAM in your corner, and that most projects still never see the light of day. Failure is part of the process. That said, getting one in every 10 projects made means you’re a success even by jaded Hollywood standards.

Have an Exit Strategy

Sometimes your relationship with a PAM will go south, perhaps over creative differences, personality clashes, egos, money, whatever. Keep this in mind from the beginning and always make sure you have a contractual way out if the relationship sours. The worst position is to be stuck with a PAM who’s a drain instead of a buoy for your creative talent.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Dear Cinephiles,

Last year, I was invited to serve as a film writer and critic for a new upstart online publication. Unfortunately, the company went under before it had a chance to publish my first piece -- an advanced look at 2018's biggest summer tentpoles. Recently though, I was combing through some of my old writing for a portfolio I'm putting together and I came across this little gem. I was pleasantly surprised with how well it turned out and found myself a little disappointed that it never got in front of the readership that it was supposed to. So, alas, I decided to resurrect it here on my own blog just in case anyone was interested in taking a stroll down Tinseltown's memory lane. (Yeah, I know it's only been a year, but a lot can happen in such a short time!) Anyway, without further ado, here is my 900-word write-up on last year's heftiest blockbusters! Enjoy!


Pumped Up: A Look at This Summer’s Tentpole Films
By Mark Heidelberger

Each year, Hollywood works feverishly to up the ante on the scope and scale of its summer blockbusters, all in hopes of conjuring the next billion-dollar success story. Stars are bigger. Locations are bigger. Visual effects, bigger. Budget, way bigger. And that trend doesn’t appear to be abating with 2018’s crop. Nor does Tinseltown seem to be straying from the tried-and-true tradition of piggy-backing on the coattails of its most lucrative franchises.

Enter the $100-billion gorilla in the room, Disney, with not one but two post-Memorial Day Goliaths set to bash their way through theaters this summer. First to screens is The Incredibles 2, follow-up to the Mouse House’s hugely successful animated 2004 original about a family of superheroes relegated to suburban banality after the government puts the kibosh on their crime-fighting escapades. Produced by Pixar Studios, the kid-friendly sequel is scheduled for wide release on June 15th and is on track for a mega-sized opening of $140 million. At CinemaCon in April, Disney’s global distribution honcho Cathleen Taff noted the teaser trailer had been viewed a record-setting 113 million times in the first 24 hours of release and that awareness of the film was tracking at a remarkable 96%, with 61% of those surveyed expressing “definite interest.” The sequel picks up where the first film left off as the super-family struggles to resume normal lives. Wife Helen (voiced by Holly Hunter) campaigns for the reinstatement of superheroes to active duty while husband Bob (aka Mr. Incredible, voiced by Craig T. Nelson) plays stay-at-home dad. Most of the original cast is back, including Samuel L. Jackson as ally Frozone, while Bob Odenkirk makes his franchise debut as new villain Screenslaver, a mysterious media mogul who manipulates the populace through hypnotic messaging. Director Brad Bird also returns to the helm.

For those more into stegosauruses than super-villains, Universal Studios is roaring back with another installment in its second-highest grossing franchise (sorry dinophiles, but Fast & Furious still holds the top title by a cool $100 million or so) as the highly anticipated Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom claws its way onto screens June 22nd. Eschewing the previous installment’s genetic-tampering-gone-bad premise, Kingdom takes place on the now-abandoned Isla Nublar three years after the destruction of the theme park and finds co-heroes Owen and Claire racing against time to save the remaining dinosaurs from extinction as the island’s volcano begins erupting. Joining returning stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are character actors Ted Levine and James Cromwell along with franchise alum Jeff Goldblum reprising his role as dry-witted mathematician Ian Malcolm. Replacing Colin Trevorrow in the director’s chair is J.A. Bayona, who exploded onto the scene in 2012 with Naomi Watts/Ewan McGregor-starrer The Impossible. As for Michael Crichton’s beloved brainchild, which has been regaling audiences for a quarter-century now, there are no signs of tapering, with Jurassic World 3 already announced for 2021 and Kingdom posting an almost unheard-of 99% “want to see” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

And lest the studios squander the adrenalized momentum they’ve built up through Independence Day weekend, Disney will be releasing its second foray into summer box office madness on July 6th with live-action superhero sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp. This latest nugget from the ever-expanding Marvel universe, nestled between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, sees Paul Rudd return as the titular, pest-sized protagonist as he seeks to balance home and work life while under house arrest. However, he quickly finds himself pulled into an urgent mission by the doe-eyed Hope van Dyne (played by Evangeline Lilly), who joins him as alter-ego The Wasp on a quest to defeat a powerful new force while simultaneously uncovering buried secrets about their past. The Peyton Reed-directed flick boasts a star-laden cast (several of whom are returning from the original) that also includes Judy Greer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Peña, Laurence Fishburne, Walton Goggins, Michael Douglas, and Hannah John-Kamen as ruthless archvillain Ghost. But expect a targeted marketing deluge to be the real star in turning this tiny hero into a box office giant.

Not to be outdone, Paramount wades into the testosterone-fueled cinematic arena by giving IMF point-man Ethan Hunt a sixth adventure in its stalwart series, Mission: Impossible, to be released nationwide on July 27th. Subtitled Fallout, the Christopher McQuarrie-helmed actioner sees Tom Cruise’s iconic character return in a clock-crunching quest to avert a global catastrophe while being hunted by dangerous assassins (what’s new?) as well as former CIA allies who question his motives. However, the studio is keeping plot details tightly under wraps for fear of fanboys spreading twist spoilers. Starring alongside Cruise is long-time confrere Ving Rhames reprising his role as Luther Stickell as well as Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan, Alec Baldwin, Wes Bentley, Vanessa Kirby, Henry Cavill and Angela Bassett. This fresh installment marks a handful of firsts for the Mission movies, including McQuarrie as the first director to return for a second outing and the film being the first in the series to get the RealD 3D and IMAX 3D treatment. While Fallout is on track for a franchise-best domestic opening of $60-plus million, only time will tell whether the filmmakers managed to reinvent the storyline enough to ultimately ensure that this Mission doesn’t fail.