Friday, February 23, 2007


We survived our move from Beverly Hills to Century City, and the new digs are quite nice. The design is modern and "open," hoping to create more of a camaraderie amongst co-workers. (I will report all assaults and murders here.)

There's still a lot of clutter everywhere but as boxes get broken down and the contents get put away, the place will appear much more organized.

I'm adopting a "paperless" office and will no longer accept scripts in hardcopy format (unless it's necessary). This will make my life much easier.

I've been shifted from the Motion Picture Talent Department to the MP Lit Department. My new office (which is twice the size of the old) is across from Ava Jamshidi and next to Brian Levy, an up-and-comer who just crossed over from Dimension to ICM. It's fun to hear them talk to clients and execs, dishing out story notes and opinions on scripts. I feel more at home in this enclave.

A tragic casualty of the move seems to be my framed one-sheet of THE PLAYER, the 1992 film directed by Robert Altman. (The artwork features a noose made of celluloid film strip.) It has mysteriously disappeared.

It was packed in the "pre-move," and sent on ahead (from the old building to the new) a week before we left. I've been assured it will turn up somewhere, but I have a sneaking suspicion that some unscrupulous fuck has it hanging over his bed in a one-room apartment in Westwood. Or even worse, my movie poster was torn out of the valuable frame to make way for something far less prestigious - like a HAROLD AND KUMAR one-sheet.

More on this story as it develops.

I recently did a brief interview for an e-zine that discusses all sorts of business methodologies - like the B2B complex sale. I can't make heads or tails out of any of the jargon on the site, but I enjoy seeing my name in print and Steve Kayser, who authored the interview, did a good job.

It's marked at the top of the page as the "Featured Story." (I guess it's a slow news week in the business world.) Here's the link:

On the egocentric topic of my name in print, THE INSIDE PITCH blog was recently mentioned on

I do next to nothing to promote my ramblings and was quite surprised to see a flattering blurb on "," which moved me enough to mention the site here, especially since some might find it interesting.

The site announces when spec scripts are hitting the circuit and follows the process (a bit), hopefully, to a successful conclusion.

The site provides writers with a sense of what material is making the rounds and which scripts are finding buyers. It's an early glimpse at what - eventually - ends up on the "script sales" pages of other websites that are the quotidian reading rituals for many.

It also presents other inside information - like shuffling within the ranks of prodcos and agencies. If you sign up (it's free), you get automatic updates.

It's just another way to stay informed. And to stay on top of things, you've got to stay informed.


Send questions and comments to

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Today was my last day at ICM.

I started at the talent agency in June of 1998, and after almost nine years, I had to say good-bye.

I should clarify a small point. Today was my last day at ICM in Beverly Hills. As of next week, I will be starting at the new ICM.

For the last 15 years, ICM has occupied the building at 8942 Wilshire Blvd. at the corners of Almont on the west and Lapeer to the east – directly across the street from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

A uniquely designed building (that often served as host to architectural students), 8942 is rumored to have been constructed as a bank by Michael Milken. After our expansion with “Broder-Webb-Chervin-Silberman” last year, a larger base of operation seemed necessary. At the end of this five-day weekend, we will return to work on Tuesday February 20th to the 7th, 8th and 9th floors of the MGM TOWER in Century City.

Century City was constructed in the 1960s in an attempt to give the west side of Los Angeles a “downtown” feel. The land was originally owned by 20th Century Fox, which sold 176 acres of their northern parcel to make up for the loss they suffered on CLEOPATRA. The MGM TOWER was completed in 2003 at the cost of $150 million. The Tower offers 35 floors and approximately 775,000 square feet of which ICM will reportedly occupy 125,000 square feet, which includes two state-of-the-art screening rooms.

When I was a kid, my father took me to see CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972), which is set in the future of 1991 after all dogs and cats in the world have died, and apes have taken their place as “man’s best friend." Eventually, the apes get pissed off at humans, revolt and kick ass. The riot sequence scared the hell out of me, and I thought the sleek stone and angular buildings of the futuristic city added great resonance to the mise en scene. That futuristic location was none other than Century City.
For the last few weeks, many of us walked around ICM in denial about the shift. The big joke was, “Has anyone told the agents that we’re moving?” There just wasn’t any time to pack up, and the work seemed like a Sisyphean task because after successfully unloading one script – two more appeared on your desk. Despite the angst, confusion and lack of time, our administration should be commended for their organization; this part of the move has been surprisingly smooth. (I suspect those employees overseeing the move have been delving deep into their volumes of Sylvia Plath.)

My plan of attack was to throw away everything. I had eight-plus-years worth of scripts, notes, coverage, memos and an assortment of things buried under and behind furniture and shoved into every nook and cranny. My office was like an archeological dig; the deeper I excavated, the older the find. And there were some treasures. I felt a bit like Howard Carter discovering the tomb of King Tut. For instance, I unearthed a four-year-old un-cashed check (for $113.73) from Adelphia, the cable TV company. They were recently bought out by Time-Warner, but I’m going to try to cash it anyway. Buried under a pile of dust behind my desk was a script from 2000 that, I suspect, had fallen back there. The cover letter was still attached, and the author was “anticipating a quick reply.” My office was usually a mess – cluttered with hundreds of scripts piled with no system. My boss Ed Limato once suggested I clean it. “You might find the Lindbergh baby,” he said. I unloaded one and half huge bins of scripts and paper, consolidating my tenure at 8942 Wilshire to just three boxes. Since the Century City offices will be gifting us new furniture, I left everything behind except a lamp, TV and DVD player.

We know very little about the new office space. We were not given tours or shown floor plans, so the general suspense has led to all sorts of rumors and speculation. We have learned that the MGM TOWER has a wide assortment of amenities, offering a library, oil changes and “umbrella service” to name a few. The best thing about the move will be a greater selection of restaurants. Our Beverly Hills district has little to offer within walking distance. The LAZY DAISY is a staple for those who don’t want to venture more than a few steps from ICM, but it’s hardly renowned for its cuisine. Furthermore, there’s only a few tables handled by a lackadaisical waitress for whom the restaurant seems to have been named. KATE MANTILINI’S is two blocks west but it’s loud and overrated (though the sourdough bread is great). The underrated IL BUCO is a few blocks east on Robertson; it’s reasonably priced, recently expanded, and easy to get a table. But across from the MGM TOWER is the Century City Mall (a/k/a Westfield Shoppingtown) – which has recently been revamped. Rumor has it the food court there uses china plates and silverware. The mall will certainly add some convenience, offering more of a selection than the SAV-ON DRUGS we all frequent across from KATE’S. Of course, Century City is also home to the new CAA building, “another” top tier talent agency.

While I am definitely looking forward to new surroundings, I can’t help but feel a loss - leaving behind the building that served as my second home for almost nine years.

During my stay there, I was located on the “upper Westside” as it was often referred – the third floor, west wing – in suite number 362.

Although my office was an unimpressive space to be sure, it was prime real estate. Situated at the gateway to the west end of the floor, anyone who is anyone would have to walk passed my door to visit the agency’s heavy duty power brokers. Julia Roberts once made a cell phone call right outside my office. I wanted to give her privacy but didn’t dare close my door in fear that she’d misinterpret the gesture as my trying to shut out the noise. TV producer David Milch accidentally barged into my office, mistaking it for the men’s room – a common error since I was in the same vicinity as the bathroom and probably emitted a similar odor. We had a brief chat and he considered using my potted palm tree to take care of business. (Somehow, I inherited the tree from Jim Wyatt, former ICM co-CEO, who left in 1999 to serve as the CEO at William Morris. The tree is also making the move with me.)

I spent many long hours at that building. One of the first projects I rallied behind was THE PATRIOT, which went on to star client Mel Gibson. I desperately wanted to go to the premiere, but seats were in short supply. Thankfully, someone took pity on me and managed to get my name on the list; I was happier than Charlie Bucket with his golden ticket. But at the last minute, I was given the screenplay for SIMONE. Sharon Stone was meeting with the producers early the next morning to discuss the script, and she wanted my feedback. Always putting the client’s needs before my own, I bravely sacrificed the premiere and remained at work, reading and scribbling. The next morning, I helped Sharon prepare for her meeting. She eventually passed on the project. I have given up many joyous hours of life to lock myself up in suite 362 – for a different kind of joy.

As I was leaving the building for the last time today, it dawned on me that 8942 Wilshire Blvd. was the setting for several plot points in my life.

When I first started at ICM, Carol Bodie (now heading the ICM Motion Picture Talent Department) had her own management company. She managed Winona Ryder while my boss, Ed Limato, served as Winona’s agent. Since our offices worked closely together, I met Carol’s assistant, Jack d’Annibale, one evening for drinks at the Polo Lounge (in the Beverly Hills Hotel) along with Winona’s personal assistant, Sandra. We all hit it off. When Jack’s gig with Carol dried up (he was the worst assistant in Hollywood), I got him a job as a full-time story analyst at ICM. (Sandra later moved on from Winona, turning over the reigns to pal Sibi, who eventually married Christian Bale.)

Jack and I became best friends – roaming ICM like two school kids on a hall pass. We argued endlessly about story, debating the merits of scripts and talking about story problems and possible solutions. A mutual friend once called Jack and me “professionals,” but we couldn’t understand how it related to us. We were just doing what came naturally. I remember working on Saturdays – often until midnight. Jack would drop in and I’d take a break. We’d go into the third floor conference room and look out the windows, staring into the dark southwest sky lit up by the distant glitter of Century City. It was my favorite view from the building – even though our north vista featured the Hollywood Sign. Perhaps I liked it more because it was a safe perch to keep watch for any civil disobedience amongst apes.

It was during one of those respites that I first pitched Jack the idea of “Story Conference,” a series of free writing workshops I was planning. Those workshops eventually led to our collaboration on “The Inside Pitch” TV show and our Emmy nominations.

When Jack left ICM to work for Jerry Bruckheimer, it was a dark day for me. He has since ventured out on his own (is engaged to be married) and is currently working as a screenwriter (repped by ICM), adapting a book for Fox. He still visits me at work regularly.

While meeting Jack was certainly a landmark of this past decade, I also met another very influential person at ICM.

My wife.

This happy-go-lucky pro beach volleyball player was also a licensed masseuse. "HOLLYWOOD STORY EDITOR FINDS 'HAPPY ENDING.'" Sarah visited ICM once a week to ease Mr. Limato’s stress and muscle pain. On her very first day, we met at the third floor credenza (eastside).

There was a cake celebration and sugar addicts hovered around hoping to be one of the lucky few to snag a piece. (ICM was constantly serving cake – honoring a birthday, a departure, a facelift. Recently, we’ve limited it to “Cake Day”, the third Friday of the month where we celebrate everything at once with several big cakes.) While "Sweet Lady Jane" was being doled out, Sarah wandered over and we were introduced. She was dressed all in white and had her long blonde hair wrapped up in braids. She looked like the Swiss Miss. I struggled to be charming and witty and when I was done flirting (having missed out on cake – hopefully sacrificing one kind of piece for another), I went down to the Story Department to visit Jack and told him I had just met the girl I was going to marry. (I was being facetious at the time. “Marry” was probably a code word for some salacious sort of business I was imagining.) Anyway, we eventually started dating.

The times were not always good at 8942 Wilshire.

I remember once giving someone a tour of the building and took him into the Voice Over Department – a unique feature of ICM. The ironic thing about “Voice Over” was that if you had an eye for obscure faces, you might recognize a lot of people. Over the years, I had chats with voice over talent like Danny Bonaduce, Eddie Deezen and Patti Deutch. The Voice Over Department was run with an iron fist by Jeff Danis - an odd little man who guarded his halls like the bridge troll in the “Three Billy Goats Gruff.” As my guest and I walked through the area, Danis pounced like Robocop with a blown fuse, demanding to know why I was trespassing. He shouted at us and ordered that we leave. The unprovoked attack was frightening - but all in a day’s work. Like any agent worth his weight in Hollywood, his balls were big enough to expect an apology from me – for which he has yet to receive. To his credit, SHOWTIME did a moving documentary called HE’S HAVING A BABY, which chronicles the efforts of Danis and his partner to adopt a Vietnamese baby. He recently formed his own agency and took the Voice Over Department with him.

Time, confidentiality and human decency prevent me from sharing too much information about life at 8942 Wilshire. Although I threw away an unimaginable amount of detritus (all of which a few days before had precious meaning), I'm taking with me great memories, great friends, a great wife and thousands of stories that revealed themselves to me in that very building.

With two of the industry’s biggest talent agencies having relocated to Century City, it seems the apes have arrived and the conquest has begun.

Please direct all future coorespondence to:

c/o ICM


Send all questions and comments to

Saturday, February 10, 2007


I had a quick thought and decided to jot it down here. I guess it's less of a thought and more of an experience I thought I'd share - not that I expect anyone to really care.

Normally, I feel compelled to post some ponderous entry and would never consider typing up some random musings that probably have very little significance. But I suspect that’s the real purpose of a blog anyway.

This is sort of twofold, since I did get a question wondering about the SHERWOOD OAKS EXPERIMENTAL COLLEGE. It asked: Have you ever heard of Sherwood Oaks Experimental College? I visited their website, and must admit, I was quite seduced. They proclaim that they'll give writers inside access to heavies such as Paul Haggis and William Monahan and Guillermo Arriaga. They have a two-day affair in June in which writers can schmooze with agents from ICM, CAA and Endeavor, among others. Is this a legit way to further myself?

Gary Shusett founded and has operated the “college” for a zillion years, and it is very respectable. Gary is a producer (MOON OVER PARADOR) and the brother of ALIEN screenwriter Ron. The sincere and ubiquitous Gary works endlessly to bring in guests to meet with writers. As one person put it, “Gary is like Chinese water torture. He keeps coming and coming until you have to say ‘yes.’” I was once on a panel he organized at the same place and time as the Oscar nominee lunch. And when unsuspecting nominees walked by his conference room en route to their celebration, Gary pounced like a trapdoor spider, pulling in his hapless victims and sucking their blood until they agreed to meet the writers. Overall, he provides plenty of bang for the buck.

But, in general, these events are rarely about career advancement, because they are packed with clawing writers fighting for the attention of just a few. It can be overwhelming for Haggis and Arriaga – like being the only fat guy with an invite to the Donner Party. It’s best to attend these events as an educational opportunity and a chance to meet other writers, which, by the way, is a very legit way to advance yourself. Keep your expectations realistic about making significant industry contacts at any of these gatherings. Of course, if you have the ability to sink your teeth into some producer or agent, by all means, dig in.

Earlier today, I arranged for a half-dozen of our Agent Trainees to meet with budding filmmakers at an event staged by the Sherwood Oaks Experimental College at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. These trainees had never been to such an event, and I thought it was a good opportunity, so I took Gary up on his invitation for a Q&A between the hopeful filmmakers and the hopeful agents. (I didn’t partake in the festivities, since there's no hope left for me; I chaperoned and offered silent support from the back of the room.) This was a rare occasion for these up-and-coming agents to get a look at the faces behind those faceless query letters.

Gary is a good host, and I thought the agents-to-be did a great job, but they may have been a bit overwhelmed by the crowds of people. From where I was sitting, the trainees’ dais looked an awful lot like a banquet table, and the filmmakers resembled the hungry line waiting to enter the Panorama City HOMETOWN BUFFET on a Saturday night.

Anyway, after the event, quite a few writers came up to me and spoke about their various projects, going into all sorts of details. In a crowded room with lots of ambient noise, it was hard to concentrate. But one man came up to me and said, “I hear your wife is a chiropractor.” Suddenly, all the noise around me vanished. I could really hear this guy. Finally, someone wanted to talk about something other than just Hollywood! And I was listening. I thought it was a good approach – a way to break the ice and stand apart from all the other writers vying for my attention. After all, I hear the same sort of stuff twenty-four hours a day. “I won the ABC screenwriting contest…My script is currently with…I’ve got a high concept comedy… This would be perfect for Mel Gibson….” In this town, no one takes any personal interest in anyone. It’s all about, “What the fuck can you do for me?”

But this man asked about my wife.

It was surprising and quite thoughtful. I wanted to engage this man in a conversation. He handed me his card and I asked, “Are you a chiropractor too?” He said, “No, I’m a writer…And I have a high concept….” And I looked around the room, as the noise rushed back into my head and I thought to myself, “Of course you are…Of course you do.”

Sunday, February 04, 2007


I have two questions for you. First, there are several services out there that offer coverage from Hollywood readers. Would it make any difference to you or someone in the know, if you received a query from a writer who had received a “consider” or “recommend” from one of these services? Or is it just another waste of time/money?

And secondly, I've also read that for unknown writers it's important to get your work "in the door" anyway possible. Some have even suggested contacting people who work in the mailroom, because these are future agents and someday they are going to need clients and they would be more open to reading a script from an unknown. What are your thoughts on this avenue? And if you do think it may be viable, can I get a direct number to ICM's mailroom?

Personally, I would have no interest in learning that a script received favorable marks from someone else – especially if that reader is unknown to me. Some writers have sent coverage from these services or from studios or other agencies. How do I know if they haven’t been doctored? A writer once took a rejection letter sent to him from me and doctored it to read most favorably. This is a small town and it got back to my office. (A friend had read the script based on this “favorable” letter and called me to say, “Dude, this script sucks ass. Why the fuck did you glow about it in this letter?) Needless to say, the next piece of mail the writer received was a “cease and desist” letter.

I have mixed feelings about these coverage services. A friend has paid in excess of five hundred dollars (per coverage/notes) to “experts” whose names are unknown to most anyone in the industry, so he suggested that I start up a service myself. My wife - picture a sun-kissed Lady MacBeth - overheard this and immediately formulated my business plan. But I rejected the idea. I’d be too truthful and probably wouldn’t have much of a business. “Dude, this script sucks ass” is not the way to achieve client satisfaction. And I’d feel dishonest taking money from and giving notes to some aspiring writer that will never ever make a dime in this business.

To pay for coverage, I think, defeats the purpose unless the reader is being dead honest. When a script goes into a studio or agency, the coverage is completely impartial – which can lead to some painfully candid comments. Can a reader who is paid directly by the writer be as frank? Or does he risk future business? That’s not to say these services do not provide a purpose. However, to use the coverage as a means of entrée into a company may not be all that effective.

As for the mailroom, it is, indeed, the place where many future agents start their odyssey. However, it’s pretty busy down there, and there may not be much time for that sort of phone call. But if you decide to stroll down this avenue, let me know how the call turns out. By the way, not everyone in the mailroom wants to be an agent, so make sure you don’t end up pitching to the Fed Ex man. (And the phone number you request is listed somewhere.)

How can I get a job as a script reader for a studio or agency? Can I do it living outside of California?

With the excessive influx of scripts into studios and agencies, busy executives and producers cannot read everything. So, material is vetted through a screening process, where “readers” (a.k.a. story analysts) review the projects and write a report. The “reader’s report” or “coverage” includes a logline and synopsis. Most importantly, perhaps, is the section devoted to comments, where, generally, the reader opines on the material’s strengths and weaknesses, the overall effectiveness of the narrative and its viability as a film or TV project. The reader gives the script a grade of RECOMMEND, CONSIDER or PASS.

This is a much maligned process, because some writers believe the reader is not qualified to judge his material. Ultimately, I think it’s less an issue of qualifications and more about ego. No writer wants to think his hard work could be rejected by an underling (perhaps even a failed or bitter scribe himself). “This guy is a loser. Probably a wannabe who couldn’t write a fucking e-mail. If my script had landed on Spielberg’s desk, I'd have a deal by now.’” (But don’t forget, moviegoers – comprised of people who’ve never heard of Robert McKee or attempted to write a script or make a movie – issue the "recommend, consider or pass" on a regular basis.)

It just isn’t realistic to expect the exec to read every script sent his way. When bringing in your taxes to H&R Block, do you expect either “H” or “R” to prepare them? It would be presumptuous to assume that Moe, Manny or Jack would change the oil if you took your car to Pep Boys.

Whether it’s revered or reviled is immaterial. This is the standard operating procedure of Hollywood. Readers vet most of the material. This system was conceived at the birth of the film industry. It is a tradition.

In the early days of filmmaking, the studios employed “story editors” who were not only “readers” (scripts were also referred to as “scenarios” and “photoplays” back then), but they also determined which scripts to buy. They did the rewriting and wrote their own original material too. They even edited films. Scenarios were bought outright in the beginning. A 1915 article in Photoplay Magazine, written by Captain Leslie T. Peacocke, tells us that “Twenty-five dollars per reel was, up to a year ago, the usual price for the average scenario. Few of the higher class companies now pay less than $35 for scripts from unknown writers, and most of the well known scenario authors were demanding and getting from $100 to $200 per reel for original stories and from $75 to $250 per reel for adaptations from stage plays and books.”

With the promise of that kind of paycheck, people wanted to write scripts. The modern deluge of screenplays into town is not a recent phenomenon. In those pioneer days, there wasn’t enough material to keep up with the output of product. (In 1915, one studio could produce almost the same amount of films that all of Hollywood turned out last year.) So, for better or worse, studios advertised for scenarios in national magazines! This eventually led to a phenomenon known as “scenario fever.” In Budd Schulberg’s memoir “Moving Pictures,” he writes about his father, B.P. Schulberg, the Story Editor for narrative filmmaking pioneer Edwin S. Porter. Shulberg recollects on his father’s experiences: “There was a stampede to ‘get into the move game,’ and if you couldn’t get a job in front of the camera as a featured player or as a five-dollar-a-day extra, or behind it as a director, cameraman or technician, you could always try your hand at scribbling. When my father and mother wheeled my fancy carriage through Mt. Morris Park, they would be intercepted by passersby who had heard that young Shulberg was Edwin S. Porter’s Scenario Editor and would press on him their latest inspirations for Mary Pickford…’They came pouring in, mostly in illegible scrawls,” BP would tell me, ‘written on everything from postcards to butcher paper. Everybody who paid his nickel to see one of our shows thought it was easy money to dash off a movie. Most of them were illiterate. Nearly all of them were godawful.’”

Eventually, Thomas Ince compartmentalized the process of filmmaking, dividing the tasks and assigning them to individuals. As a result, the story editor just mined for new material, while a writer was assigned to write and so on. Despite the changes, almost a hundred years later, a similar line of defense forages through piles of screenplays hoping to divine potential movies to send up the chain of command until a handful are greenlit for production.

Although readers come from all walks of life, at the agency, most of our dozen freelance readers have graduate degrees in writing and all sorts of Hollywood experience. However, as an industry standard, this is not a pre-requisite.

Most reading jobs in the business are freelance. Readers pick up scripts, read them at home, turn in their coverage and pick up their next batch. Freelance readers are outside contractors and do not receive employment benefits. However, reading scripts is a great education and many writers, producers and executives have started life as readers. ICM CEO Jeff Berg started his career as a reader. ICM boasts an impressive list of reader alumni – most recently Patrick Melton, who has had his first flurry of success with selling three scripts and a TV pilot, landing several assignments, and seeing his first film produced. The idea that readers are unqualified or ill-equipped to review material is – in most cases – not true. Many must demonstrate their aptitude during the hiring process. The job competition (like everything in this business) is fierce. We get hundreds of unsolicited applications in a year and have the ability to choose the best. Most readers are professionals. In fact, I would make the case that the likelihood of a reader getting a bad script far outweighs (think morbidly obese) the script getting a bad reader.

To land a freelance reading job, find examples of coverage on line. Study them. (Somewhere in this blog, I included a list of story elements I look for when reading a script.) Then, create a portfolio of coverage by reading unproduced scripts and writing up reports. Have an example of a RECOMMEND and/or CONSIDER and a PASS.

Get the “Hollywood Creative Directory” and cold call every Story Department, CE, Story Editor, and Director of Development at every agency and production company. Ask to send résumé and samples. If they are not hiring, ask them to keep the résumé and samples on file.

Most studios use union readers. There is a Story Analysts Union (IATSE Local 700S) – which operates under the auspices of the Motion Picture Editors Guild. The Story Analyst Guild keeps a roster of readers that signatories must exhaust first before hiring a non-roster reader. This means it is much harder to get a job with the signatories.

Union readers start at $27.08 an hour. This is considerably higher than the starting salary for a freelance reader, which can range from $40-$60 per script. Often, books demand a higher fee. (It can take up to four hours to read a screenplay and write coverage.) Union readers hold on to their jobs until the very end when the mortician has to pry the scripts from their cold, dead hands. All reading jobs fill very quickly.

Since the demand for these jobs is great and there are hundreds of applicants within a mile radius of any prodco, agency or studio, it’s not realistic to expect companies to hire readers from outside of town. Beware of those that do.

I am an Entertainment and Arts Management major at Drexel University out in Philadelphia. It has been my goal for awhile now to become a talent agent at one of the big 5 (WM, ICM CAA etc.) or maybe a boutique agency that is on the larger side (Paradigm, APA etc.) I have read countless accounts of how agents started off in the mailroom and muscled their way to the top. My question is this: how do you get into the mailroom? From what I understand, the application process is extremely fierce and typically a resume sent through H.R. is incinerated upon arrival. I still have a few years of school left (I'm in my first year) so what advice do you have in terms of breaking in to such a difficult industry? Should I try to bolster my resume or concentrate more on making contacts? Do any of these agents have a legitimate internship program for current college students? I should mention that the program of studies for my major includes two "co-ops" (which are basically internships) for the summers after my sophomore and junior years. Any idea on what type of internship during these time periods would round out my industry experience? Any advice you can give me to help me along the path to becoming an agent is greatly appreciated.

You are referring to a Hollywood agent? Not a travel agent? Or even a secret agent? Because the life of a Hollywood agent is really tough. Just a quick glance at Ari Gold from HBO’s ENTOURAGE provides a taste of the stressful and demanding work required to achieve any sort of success.

First and foremost, agents are salesmen. Few have backgrounds in the arts. Most have business or law degrees. If “sales” is not your thing, consider another aspect of the entertainment business. The prime responsibility of an agent is to get work for their clients. It’s a hard night’s sleep when the phone sheet is covered with the names of client’s who haven’t worked and cannot afford to pay the rent or the kid’s school tuition. While the agent frets and toils over that, he also worries that competing agents are trying to steal clients. If he has an up-and-comer on his roster, for example, he often needs to accompany him everywhere – to mark his territory and ward off the poachers.

Agenting is not a job, it's a lifestyle.

The first few years for most agents (which would include a training period) are not lucrative. They might make the salary equivalent to a New York City school teacher – only the kids in Hollywood are bigger, not as cute and much more unruly. Often, burn-out sets in before the big bucks ever arrive. Agents at big agencies don’t get 10% of what the client earns; the agency gets that. The amount of commission an agent brings in to the agency allows him to negotiate a bigger contract (and get a commensurate bonus), but if his overhead (cost of doing business) exceeds his contribution to the agency, he's scrambling for another job. Show business isn’t known for its civility either, so be prepared for a barrage of invective and cruelty not seen since the days before the Emancipation Proclamation. (Observe Kevin Spacey’s dead-on performance of a studio executive in SWIMMING WITH SHARKS.) One must not only endure pain but take some pleasure in it to survive on this side of the business. But for those who belong here, this is a great business.

And why should we have all the fun?

The smartest move for you to make would be to enter an internship program. Many interns have come back to our agency after graduation to take jobs as assistants. Some have gone on to become agents. An internship is a great way to get frontline experience and make necessary connections. Furthermore, agency experience is real capital in this business. Interning at one of the top five agencies looks great on a résumé and can help move you to the top of any job applicant list. However, these internships are very competitive. We get interns from all around the country. The crop is often very impressive and they come from some of the very best schools. Summer internships are the most popular. (And a summer in L.A. is awesome.) If you plan on applying for a summer internship, you need to do it now.

Contact Human Resources at any of the desired agencies to learn about the requirements. Phone contact is important. Put a personality to the application. And be persistent. Since most internships are not paid, college credit is almost always required.

To insure that return trip after graduation, take the internship seriously, make sure everyone will remember your name and, in the words of Purlie Victorious, “Do what you can for the white folks.”

Everyone who reads my script really likes it but no one wants to buy it or sign me. Is it really this hard to get a break?

Yes, it is that hard. But, most often, the writer makes it harder.

I suspect no one really likes the script, which is why you haven’t gotten that break. It’s important to understand that rarely will someone tell you the script isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

Screenplays are like baby pictures. No one will look at a mother's photo of her baby and say anything negative. Most can, at least, sympathize with the amount of time and effort that goes into writing a screenplay (the writer's "baby"), so decorum is often used. Because the writer thinks he has written a great script, he believes the false praise. (Just like a mother believes her ugly runt is adorable when someone tells her.)

Always observe the actions behind the words. At the least, if someone is willing to pass the script on or refer you to others, he probably believes in the material. As I’ve stated over and over again, I do not believe one has to write a “great” script. One merely has to write the “right” script – which means getting it to the right person at the right time. Perhaps this isn't the right script. You need to distance yourself from the material and then come back to it with a fresh perspective. At a later date, you might have a better understanding as to why no one is embracing the script. Use this fresh POV to tackle a rewrite and then strategize a new marketing plan.

In the meantime, start your next script.

I'm having a tough go generating requests to read a script of mine with this query letter. Any ideas how to better my results?

...It's 1942, World War II is raging, when a mysterious German scientist contacts the Allies wishing to defect with breakthrough technology for developing an atomic bomb. Now it's up to a war-weary American colonel and his crack team of Allied agents to infiltrate a top-secret Nazi research facility and bring the scientist out before the Germans learn of the breakthrough and develop the weapon themselves.

This is the premise for THE BEST MAN an Alistair MacLean style high-adventure for today's video game generation.

My first script, a horror story called Taboo, was recently optioned by Film Factory New Zealand (Ike: Countdown to D-Day, Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America) with Stuart Orme (The Puppet Masters) attached to direct. Currently, I reside outside of Los Angeles, but I am just a one hour flight away and I can travel there for meetings without restriction. May I send you the script for your consideration?

New writers trying to break in with a spec script set outside of present day have an uphill climb (steeper than the usual climb). Period pieces are often a tough sell, and WWII movies haven’t set the box-office on fire lately.

Also, you would probably get more mileage referencing the likes of Ludlum. The last feature adaptation of a MacLean novel starred Michael Dudikoff almost twenty years ago. A young CE might not have ever heard of Maclean. At least they (probably) know that Ludlum is responsible for the Jason Bourne character

You chose a subject matter that's a tough sell. Ultimately, it sounds like an idea from which both agents and producers would shy away. This is probably the best explanation for the lack of enthusiasm. And you should have known better.

New writers must do some advance work. This is not to discourage you from writing what you want. However, a scribe should have a list of a few stories he’d like to tell. Let’s say he has ideas for a comedy, a WWII adventure and a biography of Renoir. The writer needs to do some investigating to understand the current state of the marketplace and then choose the concept that motivates him - but will also excite both buyers and sellers. Granted, the climate can change rapidly by the time the script is complete, but it still makes sense to work on an idea that has set some recent, successful precedent.

Hollywood’s most successful scribes have the gift of writing material that inspires both themselves and their audience.

Like a lot of aspiring writers, I have people at different agencies who will read my stuff. They've liked something I've written in the past, (though not enough to sign me) or at the very least don't want to miss out on what could be a next great script, so are always happy to read the next spec. Fine. Great. However, due to recent agency mergers and buyouts, some of my contacts are now working together (or at least under the same roof). So my question is: What is the etiquette on this? Do I let each agent know when the next spec is ready? Do I pick the one I like more and hope the other doesn't find out? Do I contact them both, but not inform them about the other one, and worry about it later? Should I go with the one who contacted me first between the two while their agencies are separate? Obviously I want my work to get read; but also don't want to burn any bridges before even getting started by stepping on the wrong toes.

Let me answers these one by one.

Do I let each agent know when the next spec is ready? Yes.

Do I pick the one I like more and hope the other doesn't find out? You're not asking her to the fucking prom.

Do I contact them both, but not inform them about the other one, and worry about it later? Yes. Contact them both. Different agents have different tastes, so send it to everyone. One agent will read the script and say, “I can’t sell this.” And the other agent will read the script and believe he can sell it. Why should you reduce your odds of finding the right person? If they both love it (and they’re at the same agency) they can co-rep you. If they are at different agencies, you can decide the best home for you. A writer wants to be careful in sharing his scripts with both sellers and buyers simultaneously. If you send the script to every production company in town and it’s a unanimous rejection, a rep may not want the script afterwards. (It’s damaged goods.) I suggest tackling the search for representation first. If that fails, then market the script to buyers.

Should I go with the one who contacted me first between the two while their agencies are separate? See above.

By the way, there is no etiquette in Hollywood.

In “Mailroom #10,” I responded to this question: "I think you focus too much on loglines and pitches and not enough on screenplays. Don't you understand the importance of the screenplay over the logline? I think all this pitch and logline preaching is doing writers a disservice. Don't you?" A reader wanted to respond based on his own experiences. This is what he has to say:

I am going to create a Breathalyzer Test for sending emails: The email sender will have to go through a series of brain/reflex tests to prove they are not intoxicated. Only after which, will they be allowed to "send" the email.

My questions for the person who sent the email:

When you decide to go to the movies or order a movie through Netflix, do you watch EVERY movie offered in hopes of finding one that suits your fancy or do you base your decision to watch a movie on the SNAPSHOT given that indicates what the movie is about? Then why should it be that much different for the professional producer, agent, actor, story editor, reader, etc.?

We, as moviegoers are so accustomed to using a visual logline (trailer, etc.) to determine our level of interest in a movie that it should not be a surprise or shock that Hollywood has something similar in place to determine their interest in spec screenplays.

What Chris' focus on loglines has done to my writing: It has saved me from a lot of false starts, unnecessary drafts, etc., because I will only start a screenplay after I have written a logline for the script. If the logline works, I proceed to write the script. If the logline sucks, then it's off to writing the next one... in search of the “Halle Berry” logline that can be turned into a “Halle Berry” script.

And I no longer tell anyone how "good" or "great" my logline or script is: I'm the writer... not the audience. It's my job to write and their job to tell me what their reaction to the script... not the other way around.

With all the bad scripts floating around Hollywood, I personally don't think there is enough focus on loglines. When a writer says, "I'm going to write about such and such...," he's talking about the logline/concept of the screenplay.

So why gloss over such an important aspect of the process in favor of rushing to FADE OUT, tell ourselves (and that stripper at the club) how great it is, and waste the $$$ on copyrights, contests and script stalking?


Bob Carroll Jr. died on January 27th at the age of 88. Mr. Carroll was the co-creator and prolific writer of the seminal TV sit-com I LOVE LUCY.

I LOVE LUCY followed the exploits of a wacky housewife (Lucille Ball) and her husband, a Cuban entertainer (played by real life husband and Cuban entertainer Desi Arnaz). It was a monster hit for CBS when it premiered in 1951 as the #3 highest rated show of the year. It found its way to the #1 slot where it remained for most of its life – even in its final season as a weekly series.

Carroll had helped create the “Lucy” character, with his writing partner Madelyn Pugh Davis, on a radio show called MY FAVORITE HUSBAND that also starred Ball. Carroll co-wrote all 180 episodes of I LOVE LUCY along with Davis and producer Jess Oppenheimer. In the fourth season, Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf joined the staff. Only Davis and Schiller survive.

Carroll & Davis remained with Lucille Ball for most of her career, penning many of her post I LOVE LUCY TV series and co-writing the story for her 1968 feature YOURS, MINE AND OURS. Carroll also co-created shows and wrote episodes for many other series during his career, which ended in retirement in the 80s.

The I LOVE LUCY writing was meticulous. Lucille Ball was an actress not a comedian, so the gags (like candy wrapping and grape stomping) were written out in detail (which Lucy referred to as “the black stuff”) and even given a test run by the writers before the star ever got hold of the script.

Using “Laughs, Luck…and Lucy,” by Jess and Gregg Oppenheimer, as a reference, here is an excerpt from “LUCY DOES A TV COMMERICIAL, which features the redhead pitching a vitamin syrup called “Vitameatavegimin.” (“Do you poop out at parties? Are you unpopular? ) After endless rehearsals in preparation for a live commercial, Lucy unwittingly discovers the health tonic is loaded with alcohol:

LUCY: Well – I’m your Vita-veeda-vigg-vatgirl. Are you tired, run down, listless? Do you pop out at parties? Are you unpoopular? Well, are you? The answer to ALLLLL your problems in this li’l ole bottle. Vita-meeta-vegamin. (She looks real pleased with herself for getting it right.) Contains vitamins, meat, metagable and vinerals. With – (She looks at the bottle.) Vitametavegamin you can spoon your way to health. All you do it take one of these full-vita meedy mega meenie moe a mis (She holds up the spoon.) … after every meal. (She has a lot of difficulty getting the spoon under the neck of the bottle. Keeps pouring so that it doesn’t hit the spoon but goes on the table. Finally, she puts the spoon down on the table, takes the bottle with both hands and pours it on the spoon. She puts the bottle down, looks at the spoon to see that it’s full, beams back to the audience, turns back to the table, picks up the bottle and drinks out of it. As she puts the bottle down, she notices the spoon again, picks it up and puts it in her mouth. She forgets to take it out. With the spoon in her mouth.) Taste just like candy. (She takes the spoon out of her mouth. By now, she is leaning, practically sitting on the table.) So why don’t you join the thousands of happy, peppy people and get a great big bottle. (She opens her mouth but realizes that she’d better not try it again. Holds up the bottle.) This stuff.

Over fifty-years later, Mr. Carroll’s creation remains as “poopular” as ever. I LOVE LUCY is one of the few 50s sitcoms that airs regularly on TV stations around the world. It can be seen over a dozen times a week on FOX here in Los Angeles.


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