Emerging writers are always told that their script is everything. And to a certain extent, that’s true. If your script isn’t good then you probably won’t be able to sell it. However, your pitch (and your screenwriting career) is about more than just the words on the page. In the latest edition of The Launch Pad Insider Series, writer Natalia Temesgen and literary managers, Krista Sipp and Devon Byers share how they empower writers, not just their script.
Launch Pad Insider Series presents a live Q&A with Prose Competition jury members Krista Sipp and Devon Byers, literary managers and founders of First Friday Entertainment, on EMPOWERING THE FULL WRITER. Tuesday Oct 6th at 5pm PST/8pm EST – LIVE!
Posted by Launch Pad on Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Krista Sipp and Devon Byers are judges for the 2021 Launch Pad Prose Competition.
If you don’t have time to watch the full event, here are eight key takeaways from the panel to empower writers.
Managers and studios don’t hire a script. They hire a writer
Becoming a working screenwriter isn’t just about your script. It’s about you. A manager is less concerned with just a single script but rather with the entirety of the writer. Before a manager signs a writer, they’ll ask:
- What kind of person is the writer?
- Are they easy to work with?
- What’s their story?
- What’s the work ethic like?
“It’s like dating. We’re trying to find the perfect match for us and the perfect match for them. It really is about the person.”
Generally, a manager is less interested in the actual script that brought you to their attention. They’re much more concerned with your next ten scripts and how they can bring those to market. And that means planning for the long haul. The good news is that you shouldn’t pin your entire screenwriting career on a single script. Sadly, it’s also the bad news, because literary managers aren’t going to be satisfied with just one great script.
A good manager sees their clients as people, not products
A big part of developing writers is understanding that they are a person, not a product. Natalia points out how any manager worth their salt will see their clients as a person first, and never a product. A (good) manager/writer relationship is closer to friendship and further from a toxic boss/employee mindset.
“It’s like dating,” explains Krista. “We’re trying to find the perfect match for us and the perfect match for them. It really is about the person.”
“The page gets people excited,” adds Devon, “but what also gets people excited is the person.”
If nothing else literary managers should have a shared sense of empathy. If the writer is going through a tough time the manager will be able to pick up on that and help them without getting irate over the decrease in productivity.
Diversity is not just ethnicity
While there’s still a long way to go, the positive impact of diversity on the screenwriting industry is immense — and growing. And writers need to be aware that their story has value.
“The fun part about the word ‘diverse’ is that it’s diverse. It can represent so many things,” said Krista.
“It really is about that writer, and that writer’s story, and what they want to say, added Devon. “Diversity is not just ethnicity, he continued. It encompasses differently-abled people alongside people of different genders and socio-economic backgrounds. Writers today should feel empowered to find their voice and tell their unique story because Hollywood is hungry for authentic scripts.
You should be open to all mediums that excite you
So far we’ve thought about the full writer in terms of their personality, but it can also include expanding the limits of your area of expertise. Managers aren’t necessarily bound to a single medium, so you shouldn’t be either. If you have an idea that you think would work as a stageplay, then chances are there’s a manager out there who will be more than happy to encourage you on that journey.
As Krista says, “The writer should be open to all mediums that excite them.” Be open to the possibilities of changing your script’s medium and it may just breathe fresh life into a dusty old project.
How to answer the question “What else have you got?”
That being said, there’s a time and a place to go off-book.
If you ever find yourself in a general meeting with an executive or producer you will inevitably be faced with the questions “What else have you got?” Having an answer ready for this inquiry is super important, but even if you have ten projects waiting in the wings don’t take a shotgun approach. Instead, try specifically picking projects that align with the reason why the executive or producer is taking the general with you in the first place.
For example, if you landed a meeting through a gritty horror script, don’t answer the “What else have you got” question with a whackadoo slapstick comedy. It doesn’t matter if it’s a great pitch, the fact that you went away from their strengths might confuse an executive about where your strengths lie. Once you’re established you can afford to experiment, but it’s best to build a kind of brand early.
What story do you want to tell?
Devon highlighted time and again the importance of writers asking themselves, “What is the story I want to tell?” Because there’s no use trying to chase a trend that will be dead by the time you catch up to it with a finished screenplay. Instead, look inward and think about the kinds of stories that excite you. What are you passionate about? What have you experienced, and how can you share that experience with others? Passion like that bleeds through the page and will make you a more exciting prospect to work with.
Be collaborative and open to notes
The writer/manager relationship is just that — a relationship. If you’re a difficult writer to work with during the notes and revision process, you’ll miss out on the best part of having a literary manager. Because unlike your private study where you craft beautiful dialogue and exposition in isolation, a working relationship is necessarily symbiotic.
When you receive notes, your instinct might be to fight back and get defensive. Fight that feeling. As Krista advises, be as collaborative as possible and be open to notes that may cut against what you think is right. Your manager isn’t attacking you. They’re just trying to make your product as good as it can be. And remember, you don’t have to agree with everything they say. But you should learn to listen and be open to opinions that are contrary to your own. Especially when they come from someone who’s on your side.
Make a query letter concise, with a bio and logline
When it comes to query letters, Devon recommends keeping them as brief as possible. Include a brief bio about who you are and a logline for your script. That’s about it. Because while the script you’re writing may have accumulated some accolades, it won’t be much use if the award doesn’t come from the 3-5 biggest competitions in the world.
Instead, focus on writing about what makes you a unique writer. Find your edge in a business looking for new voices and exploit it for all it’s worth.
How to empower writers
There are a million different ways to become a successful working screenwriter. Because that’s how many people have become screenwriters. Find your voice, expand your niche, and become the kind of hard-working, respectful professional that literary managers and studios want to work with and you’ll not only empower yourself as a writer — you might just create a successful writing career.
Do you have a book or short story that would make a great movie? We want to read it! Submit your script to the Launch Pad Prose Competition to get your story in front of industry judges like literary managers, Krista Sipp and Devon Byers. Now accepting short stories, novels, novellas, and manuscripts.