Monday, January 29, 2007

Chronicles 39 - Small Heat, Big Heat

This is a strange business. It is very much about perception. Ultimately progress comes down to association - who is "attached" to you or your script. The actual script is what it is, but the perception of that script, or the "project" as we like to self-importantly call it, changes according to its associations.

Any type of heat can make promoting your "project" easier by several orders of magnitude.

My director partner and I are in post-production on a short film which features an actor who although not a household name is known in the independent film circles, especially at festivals, and regularly appears as a character actor in big Hollywood movies. Of course since he's known by agents and managers then mentioning his name creates "Small Heat". Ears perk up.

I mentioned this short film to a top Hollywood manager who has sold a ton of specs and who had, so far, never ever responded to my queries and for the first time ever he wrote back requesting to see the short (when complete) and was also interested in other projects I was setting up.

The small heat on the short shot up a few more degrees when the editor of a recent huge box-office comedy hit came down to look at the footage. The director had got to him via one of the actors on the short so it was a case of, "Okay, I'll take a look". When he saw the footage he was really impressed and thought it was fantastic. He loved the direction, the cinematography and the black humour. He then committed to editing the project which was a great boost for "the project".

Now when I mention that the editor of this major international hit is attached to our short then ears prick up even more. A Hollywood agent that I'm in contact with who passed on my other scripts emailed me back and was curious to know more about the short. Just a little heat can grease the wheels and move things along.

My success with agents has been very mixed to say the least. I had a one-man-band agent in London for a while who really believed in my work but was not really connected enough to set anything up. Another one-(wo)man-band agent was interested in repping my rom-com but she wasn't a fan of my animation projects so I went with the other guy.

In the US a manager was interested in developing projects with me but I didn't feel that he got my work. He liked the sharpness in my writing but he didn't "get" the concepts so I just felt that we wouldn't click on the development front. I didn't click with him as a person either so I backed off. Development on a long term basis is a very intimate relationship and I wanted someone I was comfortable with.

I had a similar situation with an LA boutique agency agent who wanted to represent me. I was really excited when he offered to "go out" with my family comedy script but in the time period between getting the call and meeting him several people in the industry told me that a) I could do better b) this person had no industry clout c) the agency had no talent to package.

Also at the time I had a champion at a big 3 agency who loved the rom-com script and had just sent it out to one of their big female stars. She was a powerful talent agent and it looked like she was going to set me up with a literary agent at this same agency. All this interest pumped up my ego and I somehow got whipped up into a frenzy of excitement and was convinced the female star would attach herself to my rom-com which would trigger finance and we would go into production etc etc.

I also had a legendary casting director interested in casting the film so I thought success was assured. Predictably, it all faded into nothing and having not gone with this smaller, lacking-in-industry-clout-agent I was again left agent-less.

Was not going with this US agent hubris or good instincts on my part? I'll never know. Since I tried to sell that same script on my own via an entertainment lawyer with no success I think that, looking back, if I would have known that I was heading for a big lull I would have at least given him a chance, after all I could always have fired him later, but since other industry people were advising against me going with him then I can see logically why I blew him off. Oh well, what's done is done and 20/20 hindsight is a great thing as they say.

Anyway, after various unsuccessful attempts at getting a good US/UK agent/manager I'm adopting a strategy of chasing the heat rather than the rep. By that I mean I'm focusing on setting up projects myself either by producing or contacting producers directly/via film festivals. Funnily enough this still means that I deal with agents but as a producer attaching talent.

The goal here obviously is to create the "Big Heat" and attract agent/manager attention rather than seek it. Right now, this could happen in a number of ways e.g. the short could go down well in a film festival, an A lister could sign up for my rom-com which would trigger finance and move it into production, the assignment I'm working on with a UK producer could get made etc etc. Of course NONE of this is guaranteed but at least this strategy is more enjoyable than the soul destroying query/rejection email route. At least I feel a sense of control and that SOMETHING is happening.

Right now, at least, things look positive. The air is full of potential. Now that Sundance is over my US casting director will be approaching the big Hollywood agencies and will be championing my script to try and attach an A list name. The box-office comedy hit editor is off to LA to finish off some editing on the big movie, for DVD I guess, and will come back in March to edit the short.

Last week the UK producer counter-signed the assignment contract and I'll start writing that this week. Once I'm done with that I have a UK producer ready to raise finance on the feature script, which I've yet to write, which the short film will promote. The short is a complete story in itself but sets the tone, directorial style, look, and black humour for the eventual feature.

So we'll see if all this activity will end up as a lot of hot air or real industry "Big Heat". Watch this space.

Ciao for now.