What is your role as a producer?
The old joke is that the definition of a Producer is someone who knows a writer. But traditionally a producer shepherds a film or TV project through various stages of the project's creation. In my case, I originated, developed, helped find financing and supervised the production of every film I have my name on.
What do you look for in a script?
One of the main advantages of being a producer is that you get to follow your passion, which means the scripts I look for need only be suited to my tastes, as opposed to – say - the currency of the marketplace or what an employer might want to make. That said, my taste in material is all over the place, but I always start by looking for a character that is sympathetic in a compelling situation. From there I look for scripts that are about something or speak to some relatable authentic aspect of the human condition.
What do you look for in a pitch idea?
The same things I look for in a script with the caveat that a pitch needs to be either very high concept or so well realized that the execution bludgeons you into submission, or both.
What is the biggest mistake that screenwriters make in pitches?
Do I have to pick just one? Most pitches fail because the story fails to pass muster in some way. The story is flawed. Few writers are great pitchers, but a great story will usually shine through. Buyers know this. But the more specific answer is that writers often make the mistake of picking an idea that is really inappropriate to pitch, not high-concept. The only time I can sell a non-high-concept pitch is when the pitch is based on well-known source material or when the pitch is incredibly well worked-out and moving.
How do you work with screenwriters to develop ideas?
If I originate the project, I like to start with source material, if possible. In this age of branding, it’s just easier to sell projects that are based on existing intellectual property. Sometimes writers will bring me their original project. But in either case it is not unusual for my development process to take months and even years of work. I am sure some writers feel that I am torturing them during this time frame, but the experienced writers know how ridiculously hard it is to sell anything today, and there is just no room for any mediocrity. It has to be great, and great can take a very long time to create.
What tips can you give screenwriters for working with a producer on developing a script or a pitch?
That’s tough. There are all kinds of producers out there. Some are good at development and some are good salespeople. Most established producers must have one or both of these qualities. But the best advice is to seek out producers you trust for their integrity and the quality of their ideas and make the effort to keep working with them. Working with the right producer means finding a valuable and trusted collaborator. This may sound obvious, but in practice many other unrelated priorities tend to intrude.
What things should a screenwriter do to maintain a career once they've gotten that first sale?
First of all, don’t stray too far from the kind of material you just sold. A long career will offer writer opportunities to reinvent themselves, and if your career stalls you may have to do it anyway. The second thing to do is make sure your next project is great. I like to tell writers that one good script is a fluke; two good scripts is a career. Hollywood is awash in writers who sold one script and then crashed and burned because their second script wasn’t great. Lastly, find your “voice” as a writer, but don’t fall in love with the sound of your own voice. The kiss of death in any career – writer or otherwise – is when you stop seeking out considered opinions because they tell you something you don’t want to hear.
How do you find new writers? What are you looking for from them?
I almost never seek out new writers. Working with new writers is a ton of work for me. No matter how much innate talent they might have, there is just so much they don’t know about the craft and the business. I don't try to avoid new writers, but I know plenty of experienced writers and I have no shortage of my own ideas and subjects for film and TV. When I do meet a new writer it’s almost always via a personal recommendation from a friend. Thereafter I need to see some seed of inspiration, and understanding of the craft, in their work. You can’t wing it as a writer, there’s too much you need to know. Read every good script you can, see every movie and TV show, know something about the history of cinema and TV, learn how to write clearly and effectively – then we’ll talk.