We're in for a boom, a Screenwriters' Bullmarket...
Five of the top spec agents met recently. All agreed that the spec market is trending upwards; that, after last years drought, the market is alive again.
AGENT E: The impetus to buy is always something that someone else has expressed an interest in. Its the Illusion of competition. Obviously, what the material is has some kind of a factor. A definable, measurable concept. A TV Guide logline. Its a matter of repeating the idea.
AGENT B: Its marketing: what the one-line is.
AGENT D: "They dont read it until after theyve bought it.
AGENT B: We sold [X script]. They only read 20 pages, then it became a bidding war. I tried to talk about [a scene]; they hadnt gotten that far, didnt know what I was talking about.
AGENT A: What we always come across we need to be able to sell it: everybody needs to be able to sell it upwards. If they have a split decision, and need to decide which way to go somebody will say whats the logline? Everybody needs to say: heres who is in it; heres what it is.
AGENT D: You should always tell your agent what youre writing before you write it.
AGENT A: Part of our job is knowing what the indies, distributors, studios, etc. are doing.
AGENT E: It goes beyond TV GUIDE logline: while your business is being a storyteller, it has to be an idea that can be easily repeated to someone else. I find constantly that most of our clients get in trouble because [their storylines] are too layered. Too complicated to tell anyone else."
AGENT B: "Don't write what you just saw in the theater. Go back in movie history: be ahead of everybody. Ahead of the curve.
AGENT D: Write the story that keeps you up at night the one you cant forget.
AGENT E: Seems to be 15-year cycles. Theres a real hunger right now for an internationally translatable comedy. More broad comedy than words look at what has come before.
AGENT C: If a writer writes something they think will sell, it usually shows. Youll know if something is too chance-y, write something that is very important."
AGENT A: Packaging, I think, is kind of a myth. These [A-list actors] are in the offer business. Most of them are not interested [in looking around]. They want an offer; they want to go. Well take selective shots [at packaging] but, you never know [if theyre over-scheduled].
AGENT D: You have to be careful, if youre trying to put your movie together, who you attach. [A star might commit; but the distributor may hate them, and you dont want to upset the star who was nice enough to attach to your project.] Packaging is always a dangerous thing.
AGENT A: To quote a Warners exec from a few years ago: dont cast our movie for us, we will do it, thank-you very much.
AGENT C: In those cases where you have a big spec, dont go to actors or directors if you want to go to auction [bidding war], go to the buyers.
AGENT B: The numbers from our point of view have gone down: 1996 was a lower year. 94 and 95 were higher. In the last 60 days, it has picked up. They are looking for scripts. In our shop, we have sold more pitches than specs. Right now there seems to be an up-tick [in the market] probably up to Thanksgiving, before Christmas.
AGENT D: I did do better with pitches this year.
AGENT B: Part of what [pitch buying is all about] is that studios think agents are getting too powerful. It's a little bit of them taking back power.
AGENT A: With a spec, [studios] have to do something with it right away. With a pitch, they can take time with it. Develop it.
AGENT C: Last year was down; this year a lot of assignments are heading toward cameras. Buyers are realizing that there is not a whole lot in the pipeline.
AGENT B: We did a script called [title omitted]; we sold it like this: what if you found a black box from a UFO?
AGENT C: Im looking for writing that I have an emotional response to. Im interested in careers, not just scripts. Im looking for a story that moves me in some way. We can tell you what we think are the rules; then we can give you a whole list of exceptions to the rules. The best you can do is tell stories that move you and an audience.
AGENT A: You never know. We respond to clients who are very aggressive [about their own careers]. If you are a new writer, a spec sale is a way to get noticed. Its the only way to get 40 executives to sit down and look at your script. Great if it sells; great if it doesnt what we want is somebody to say I want to find something for this person.
AGENT D: Even if it doesnt sell 40 people, 20 who read it are going to want to meet you. Everyone has a short attention span. Do you think its up to five seconds? [laughs] There is no better time to sell your spec then when you have a movie coming out. When you write your fourth one that finally sells, the other three are worth money.
AGENT E: The most likely way to interest somebody is to have it be targeted to people who are suckers for certain themes. Its unlikely youd send the script for Mrs. Brown to Joel Silver youd send him something with explosions. Perhaps, at some point, Joel might want to do a Mrs. Brown, but
AGENT A: Sometimes you go the other way, maybe to a brand new producer. You know the studio wants to buy something for him or her.
AGENT B: Sometimes we do go against type.
AGENT D: Sometimes its total luck. I need something dark and funny and sexy. I made one copy of a new spec like that; gave it to a person at lunch she bought it.
AGENT C: Usually the newcomers are the ones who are writing specs. Traditionally the new writers are the ones who are writing on spec. In the last year, the spec market took a nose dive; now it is turning around. I think all the studios are desperate for material. They think the marketplace is heating up again.
AGENT D: Another reason to write a spec: the studios are not the only place who can make your movie. Thats another consideration for a film a studio would never make, but you need to tell that story. Go to another universe of buyers.
AGENT B: We do both do use readers. We read ourselves; we do both.
AGENT A: We read it and use the coverage department to do a test of what a studio would say. We get back notes. We say if you want to incorporate it in your script, great.
AGENT C: Its a second or third opinion.
AGENT D: I read everything myself.
AGENT E: What I dont read, one of my partners reads. We all have fairly similar tastes.
AGENT B: Dont write what you just saw in the theater. Be ahead of the curve."
AGENT B: We always counsel writers: dont write a spec script to sell; write it to get a job.
AGENT E: Its called an evergreen script: that, in a comedic or dramatic way, says something universal.
AGENT C: Those are the scripts that attract actors.
AGENT B: A studio exec once said: every five years were looking for a Rainman. I said what do you mean? They said, you know, someone with a problem. When a script sells like that, we call it a Rainman. So, find an awakening, find a disease.
AGENT C: We sell em; we dont smell em.
AGENT D: [As an agent] your job is to sell it and go away.
AGENT E: When it gets in the studio pipeline, they develop it into a flop. [laughs] Its not our fault. AGENT D: Count on getting fired. Its really important when that happens to keep your cool. Seventy percent of the time, my writers get hired back on to clean up the mess but, only if theyve been nice.
[About money, studios often (unwittingly) negotiate against themselves], I always tell my clients: do you want whats in the box [meaning the offer on the table], or do you want to go for the curtain [meaning gamble for more money elsewhere].
Dont always go for the money you may get more, but they may not get your script.
Take me back to the MAIN screen,
then let me get off the net and write that spec in the next month!!!