I CAN GET YOU SIGNED (But I Probably Won’t)
By Jim Cirile
Okay, that snarky title is going to require some ‘splainin’, to quote the great Ricky Ricardo. Truth is, pretty much anyone who knows a few people in the biz can probably help get you signed -- a working writer, an assistant, an intern, whatever. Because anyone can be a passionate advocate. And if you absolutely love a piece of material, are gonzo excited about it, well, that’s contagious. And if your connection commands any level of respect at a company, at the very least the script they’re advocating for will be sent for coverage. But if they really trust that person’s judgment, the agent, producer or manager may well read that script personally. That’s the grease in Hollywood ‘s wheels-- referrals from people whose opinions they trust.
Problem is, most scripts don’t rise to the level of inspiring that sort of advocacy.
I founded CoverageInk.com in 2002, and we’ve seen a lot of scripts in that time -- tens of thousands. And while we’ve found a fistful of gems over the years, the vast majority of what we see are scripts that have potential but need a bit of work. Yeah, pretty much every single script, even the awesome ones, has some sort of problem. Of course, not all issues have the same weight. A great storyteller with voice and verve and panache, who constantly surprises the reader on every page? Heck, suddenly typos are much less important. On the other hand, a script with wonderfully dimensional characters but a weak structure is going nowhere fast, because jaded, ADD-afflicted Hollywood types are looking for any excuse to stop reading. Page 20 and your inciting incident hasn’t hit yet? You’re toast.
However, there are some scripts which we see -- not many, but a few -- which just radiate awesome. They might need a few more drafts, some rethinking, maybe a dialogue polish -- but still, they demand attention. Perhaps because of a unique, bracing writer voice. It may be a killer concept. It may be just a whole lot of brilliance on the page. But above all, it has to be entertaining. When I find a script like that, I have to champion it. I mean, that’s what we’re all looking for. (Except the assholes who will never ever do anyone a solid because they somehow think doing so will jeopardize their little fiefdom. We all know a few people like that, right?) I want to be able to call up my manager friends and say, “Drop everything and read this now.” And that’s exactly what I did with Brandon Barker’s “Nottingham & Hood,” which manager Jake Wagner (then at Benderspink) sold to Disney. More on that in a moment.
Alas, sticking your neck out is dangerous. If the industry-type doesn’t agree with your assessment or share your enthusiasm for the script, you are done like a three-strikes felon who just got pinched for stealing the Chief of Police’s left kidney. That person will never take you seriously again, and that connection will be buh-bye. Thus, people in the biz may well be reticent about championing material. Especially young agents’ and managers’ assistants -- it takes time for the rep to learn to trust that person’s opinion. Until then, they’re likely going to play it safe. Thus they may even nervously give a script they love a “consider with reservations” instead of a “recommend” just to hedge their bets, because a “recommend” sounds the alarm bells and says “Yo, everybody, awesomeness has arrived -- get readin’!”
Same is true with me. Sorry, but I absolutely will not make any calls for anyone unless they truly have the goods. I just can’t. Now that said, we do this promotion twice a year called Get Repped Now, and we always find a handful of good scripts which earn a “consider,” meaning about the top 5% and worth a look. I then get these to our manager panel and hope for the best. But honestly, I always know which ones are going to attract attention. All “considers” are not created equal. In the case of “Nottingham & Hood,” that one was a clear bull’s-eye. You could see it from 10,000 feet. While not perfect, it had a great comedic voice, concept, pacing and sense of fun. It was a no-brainer. And thus it was no surprise when three of our manager panel clamored for it; nor was it a surprise when three weeks later, it sold to Disney for six figures and got the talented Barker signed to UTA and Benderspink.
I’ve even had people offer to bribe me to refer them. “Just send my script to so-and so,” they say, “and I’ll give you $500,” or they’ll cut me in for 25% or hook me up with their time-share for a week in Paris (what, no airfare? Cheapskate.) Uh… no. See, it’s not going to do me any good to pimp out a script that isn’t there, that I know will be a “pass.” I have to protect my reputation, and every time you stick your neck out, you put a little bit of your rep on the line. Instead, dear briber, crazy idea, but how about you do the hard work required to make the script decent? There are no shortcuts. Like any other highly specialized job, learning to be a good writer takes a lot of time and drafts.
See, that’s the thing so many emerging writers just don’t get. Landing an agent or manager or producer is actually the easiest thing in the world -- once you’re ready. People will bend over backwards to help you. That is how people break in. But if you’re not there yet, finding an agent or manager is flat-out impossible. So no, I probably won’t help get you signed. But I really want to. You just have to hit me with a piece of material so compelling, so original, so awesome, that I can’t not help. Piece of cake, right? Go get ‘em.
Jim Cirile is a writer/producer and the founder of www.coverageink.com. Coverage Ink’s new animated horror feature Malevolent starring William Shatner and Morena Baccarin comes out in 2017. Coverage Ink’s Get Repped Now promotion runs until Nov. 20.