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Sep 11, 2014

Find out how to make producers want to work with you again and again with advice from an industry veteran

As part of our ongoing series, which asks our producers about their work in the entertainment business, I talked with John Crye, a current Hollywood producer and Voyage team member, about his work in the industry. Here you can read some of his own personal advice on what a writer can do to make a producer’s life easier--and get them to fall in love with your script while they’re at it.

(You can view our previous installments in the interview series, featuring producers Kelly Hayes and Charlsey Adkins, here on the blog.)

Crye--the former director of Creative Affairs at Newmarket Films, who had a hand in acquiring such modern-day classics as Donnie Darko, Memento, and Whale Rider--has more recently moved on to independent writing, directing, and producing. In his many years in the entertainment business, he’s learned a lot from experience about the production world and the professionals who inhabit it.

I asked him about any advice he had to give to writers thinking about entering the business, from the perspective of someone who had not only written himself but also worked extensively with writers as a producer. A common theme tended to reappear in his advice: understanding your producer’s needs is crucial to getting your story made in a way that’s satisfying for everyone. In the most basic terms: you need to make their job as easy as possible.

So the question remains: why do YOU need to make their job easy? Aren’t THEY supposed to work for YOU?

While a producer is indeed there to pave the way for your story to be made, that doesn’t mean much if you can’t get them to attach to your project! First and foremost, it’s important to remember that a producer’s life can be very hectic—the more you can do to build a relationship and make their job easier, the easer it will be for them to make the decision to make it to the finish line with your script.

With this important foundation in mind, here’s some of the advice Crye had to share:

 

4 Ways To Build a Great Relationship With Your Producer

as told by John Crye

 

Focus on craft, not genre

When Crye is drawn to particular scripts, it’s because he finds something that connects with him on a gut level. But even though he’s delved into the realm of thriller, sci-fi, and horror-genre works in the past, it doesn’t mean that genre is the only thing that influences his decision.

Crye says that it’s not the genre, but rather what the writer DOES with the genre that matters in the script. As a connoisseur of genre film, he knows the expected archetypes and commonalities that link those films together. When those archetypes are mixed up and put together in new and surprising ways by an adept storyteller, it makes Crye much more excited to work with that writer and see what else they can do.

“Because the tropes and archetypes of genre are so defined,” Crye says, “it’s easy to see the skill of the storyteller laid out over all of that.” With a multitude of genre movies to compare it to, your script can be a great indicator of the strength of your own writing voice.

Crye compares it to a band doing a cover song—you can know if a band is good or bad by listening to them, but sometimes you can’t pinpoint precisely what it is that makes them unique until you hear them cover someone else. That’s when the differences and idiosyncrasies of the players stand out in contrast to the original version of the song.

“There’s nothing new under the sun,” Crye says. But knowing how to take the old and make it your own is an important skill that any producer will look for in a writer.

Use your producer to your script’s advantage

Though any given producer will have a different background from the next, most have experience in multiple areas of storytelling that make them fit to bring many different types of stories to screen. In John Crye’s particular case, he started out in acting, writing, and standup before moving to development and production.

Crye holds a unified theory of film creation, in that he believes all of his experience in every area of the industry informs his production decisions. And his story is not unique among producers—many of them will have similar experiences that make them fit to bring together all the elements of a screen production.

Says Crye of his role in the process, “I act like a translator between the money and the creatives.” When you, as a writer, can get that translator to speak for you, the process of making your script come to life will run much smoother than it would without an experienced producer on your side. Use their knowledge to your advantage!

If your producer feels like you don’t want to listen to their advice or aren’t taking their criticisms seriously, it can be easy for them to start to wonder why you brought them on at all. Take their notes to heart—that kind of expertise may be invaluable down the line.

 

Write constantly

This may seem like a no-brainer at this point, but it’s worth repeating that producers love a writer with a good work ethic. It’s good to have a lot of material for them to choose from, especially if you’re someone they might want to work with again.

But Crye warns against clinging to just one idea. “Don’t get hung up or get too precious about any individual script. There is no one story that is your story—you’ve got LOTS and LOTS of stories.” Sure, you might have that one story you have to write, the one that’s close to your heart, the one that means the world to you. But remember that there’s more to the world—and to yourself!—than just one story. Write your magnum opus, make it great, and then keep writing.

Who knows…maybe you’ll even find a bigger, better story when you do!

 

Be able to take criticism professionally

Crye’s number one advice to writers was to make sure that you are able to understand and respond to criticism from your producer—especially after you’ve been paid. While he understands that a lot of writers will want to defend their work from being overly-rewritten by outside forces, a big part of screenwriting is recognizing that this aspect of criticism is simply a part of the profession.

Crye urges writers to think about it from the producer’s side: since they’ve already paid money for your script, they now should have a stake in its content. He warns: “If you accept their money, it’s no longer just art—it’s professionalism.”

But thinking about your producer as your adversary isn’t helpful either. Crye urges writers to consider their producer as, at the very least, their partner. They WANT your movie to get made, and they WANT it to be the best it can possibly be. And many producers, like Crye himself, have an extensive background in writing that can be at your disposal.

Though it’s true that some notes may miss the point you’re trying to make, or may be clumsy in their explanation, the reason why the producer wanted the change is almost always very valid. Crye advises writers to look for the “note behind the note” in any criticism—though their changes might not work for you, what is the point they’re really trying to make? And how can you both find a common ground?

It’s professionalism like this that makes Crye look forward to working with a particular writer. And by utilizing these tips, you too can exude that professionalism to get the most out of both your script, and your producer!

Still think you’ve got more to learn from the real industry professionals? Don’t worry: more interviews with working producers like Crye are just around the corner! Stay tuned to the blog for new insights and interviews with more of Voyage’s own producing team members–and, if you haven’t already, sign up below for more email updates!

 
About John Crye

John Crye spent 10+ years as the Director of Creative affairs at Newmarket Films. While at Newmarket, he acquired Memento (dir. Christopher Nolan), Donnie Darko, and Whale Rider, three classic films on the Independent circuit. Crye wore many hats at Newmarket, where he helped develop Passion Of The Christ, Memento, and Cruel Intentions, and also created online marketing campaigns for Whale Rider and the theatrical Director’s Cut re-release of Donnie Darko.

When Newmarket was acquired in 2009 by Exclusive Media Group, Crye was promoted to Vice President of Acquisitions and Production. In 2010, he left Exclusive Media Group to form Wrekin Hill Entertainment, an independent production and distribution company, where Crye served as President of Production and Acquisitions.

Crye currently works as an Independent writer/director/ producer whose website Fewdio served as home to original web series Nightmare House, for which Crye wrote, directed, and produced 30 episodes that garnered over 3 million viewers across multiple online outlets. Crye also co-produced and co-wrote The Adventures Of Santa Claus, an animated feature based on the work of L. Frank Baum, and co-produced Happy Holidays, a 2008 Independent feature now available on DVD and VOD platforms.

Sep 05, 2014

Congratulations to Nick Rosen and Pete Mortimer for their awesome, soon-to-be-released documentary, VALLEY UPRISING: YOSEMITE’S ROCK CLIMBING REVOLUTION

The film is a raucous thrill ride up (and in some cases rapidly down) Yosemite’s sheer granite walls. The film tracks the history of “tuning in and dropping out” in Yosemite’s climbing scene, from the original pioneers of the Golden Era, to the Stone Masters of the late 20th century, to the crazy Stone Monkeys of today.

Voyage is Executive Producing with Peter Sarsgaard narrating.

The filmmaking team, who are members of our prestigious Professionals Program, received financing from The North Face, Clif Bar and others. The film is in the final stages of post-production and has a festival rollout beginning on September 11th.

GO SEE IT!!!

Aug 21, 2014

Learn what scripts make producers sit up and take notice—from the advice of a talented Hollywood producer!

As part of our ongoing series, which asks our producers about their work in the entertainment industry, I talked with the delightful Charlsey Adkins, a current Hollywood producer and Voyage team member, about her work in the industry. Here you can learn some of her insights on what makes scripts unique, fun to read, and interesting to producers—and what writers can do to make their script can stand out from the rest.

(You can view the first in the interview series, featuring producer Kelly Hayes, here.)

With a bachelor’s degree in film and nearly a decade of experience in the industry, Adkins has a serious pedigree in production. Now the Vice President of Development and Production at Harbinger Pictures, Adkins was instrumental in bringing the acclaimed feature film The Help to screen.

During her career, she has worked with many writers and learned a lot about what makes a script great and what makes it fall flat. I got to ask her about the kind of scripts that speak to her, and how writers can avoid common pitfalls that turn producers off their work.

So, without further ado, here are…

 

5 Tips For Writing Your Best Script

As told by Charlsey Adkins

 

  1. 5. Value Your Work

One aspect of a script that turns Adkins off particularly is when it is clear a writer hasn’t proofread their work before sending it off to a potential producer or financier. “I read lots of scripts,” says Adkins, “and I can tell when you care when you’re writing, and when you don’t care.”

That care is most apparent in the level of continuity detail present in the script. Geographical fluidity is one of those details—for example, if you have a character leaving a scene to enter a bathroom, you’d better make sure they exit the same bathroom before they reenter that scene. Usually, this type of confusion is caused by merging two drafts of a scene into one, and can therefore be easily overlooked by a writer. But ignoring those details is a dangerous gamble.

Typos, plot holes, unfinished arcs, and confusing action are all finicky details that plague writers through any draft. It can be easy to think that readers will “get the idea”…though indeed many will, these small details can pile up to take them completely out of the story. Adkins cautions that “Those details are important to have, and they mean a lot to an executive who’s reading your script.”

Truly valuing one’s work, and giving it the greatest chance, means being on the lookout for anything that might serve as a mental speedbump to a reader. Whether that means proofreading yourself or handing your script over to fresh eyes, it’s amazing what errors even a quick read-through before sending a script out to a producer can uncover.

 

  1. 4. Make It Fun To Read

Although the logical and structural aspects of a script are something important to keep in mind, there are more intangible factors that can affect a script’s readability as well—namely, how fun it is to actually read!

Remember, when someone is reading your script, they’ve devoted two or more hours out of their day for this one project. If your script isn’t fun for them, resentment for your script and its story can build up fast. No one wants the reading to take longer than it has to, especially a busy producer who might have to make a split-second decision about whether your script is worth the read or not.

On the other hand, a fun-to-read script will build up crucial goodwill in the reader. Says Adkins,“when something’s a lot of fun to read, I get through it in a second."

So what makes a script fun? Certainly, numerous errors, overly-long actions, and plot holes can contribute to a script being a drag, and should be weeded out as early as possible. But the writer’s own enthusiasm for their work is the most important for the reader’s enjoyment. If you don’t have passion for at least some aspect of your script, why should a producer care? Any topic that matters to YOU can make an enjoyable script, as long as that enthusiasm is effectively translated to the page.

And don’t just write what you THINK a producer will like. Write something that you find fun as well! Adkins says, “I’m sure there’s producers out there saying […] ‘We need action, we need international, and we need a hot actress role, so write that.’ But for me, it’s really about the story, and the writer knowing their story.”

So don’t sacrifice fun for what you think might sell. You might find that that very mindset is what turns your reader away from what could have been a more engaging script.

 

  1. 3. Find Universal Themes

Everyone has different passions, and it’s very easy to think that no producer could ever care about a topic as specific as particle physics, small-town politics, or underwater basket-weaving, no matter how personally excited the writer might be about those subjects. And besides, aren’t the biggest blockbuster movies written for the widest audience possible?

While that might be true under some circumstances, Adkins maintains that there’s more to universality than just the writer’s choice of subject matter.

“For me, it’s not the subject matter,” says Adkins. “I could connect to a science teacher and their troubles, or an alien on Mars, if it was written in a way that was fun, easy to comprehend, and moved efficiently. […] It’s about the writing, not WHAT you’re writing.”

Adkins advises writers to try and find those themes in their story that anyone can relate to: love, loss, family, friendship, hardship, and more…but to write those themes from a specific enough viewpoint that keeps the reader interested. “If you can find those universal themes, but write them from a personal standpoint,” says Adkins, “you’ve got a pretty lethal combination.”

 

  1. 2. You Gotta Commit

Adkins says, “Writing is an art, just like painting is an art, just like architecture is an art. There’s a certain amount of skill to it, and there’s a certain amount of natural talent—and you really have to be honest with yourself about whether it’s something you have or not.”

Adkins related to me the not-uncommon story of a writer she’d met who worked for ten years as a waiter, writing over a hundred scripts in his spare time—and only considered five of those scripts to be any good. “Make sure it’s the path you want to be on,” says Adkins—because the craft requires a long, difficult road of honing your skills.

If writing is something you love, something you’re good at, and something you believe in, then nothing can stop you from making it your career. But not everyone has that, and that’s okay! Adkins herself admits that she doesn’t consider herself a writer, but her job requires her to talk to writers every single day to help build their stories. If you want to create stories, there are more ways than just writing to feed that creativity.

 

  1. 1. Write A LOT

So, what’s the number one piece of advice Adkins would give to writers starting their careers?

“You have to write a lot. A LOT a lot. Nobody comes to writing and just becomes an amazing screenwriter. If they do, they’ve been writing for a long time, or they’ve been reading for a long time, or they’ve been practicing their prose.”

Like the waiter who spent ten years honing his writing craft, you need to put in the hours to get the results you want. Writing is a skill like any other skill: it takes time to perfect. You wouldn’t expect to get rock-hard abs after one workout, or conduct an orchestra after glancing at your first piece of sheet music, so how could you expect to write a perfect script on your first try?

But just because it isn’t good doesn’t mean it’s worthless: quite the opposite, in fact. Any time spent writing, no matter how unproductive it might feel, is bringing you closer and closer to that script that will make a producer enthusiastic about bringing your story to life.

So don’t let your skills fall by the wayside! Get to your notebook, your keyboard, your typewriter—whatever you need to write—and get to work.

Still think you’ve got more to learn from the real industry professionals? Don’t worry: more interviews with working producers like Adkins are just around the corner! Stay tuned to the blog for new insights and interviews with more of Voyage’s own producing team members–and, if you haven’t already, sign up below for more email updates!

 

About Charlsey Adkins

Charlsey Adkins is Vice President of Development and Production at the feature film production company, Harbinger Pictures, the company behind the acclaimed motion picture, The Help. Charlsey is responsible for overseeing the company's development slate and works directly with the head of the company, Brunson Green. Before joining Harbinger, Charlsey gained production experience working on Studio feature films that include We Are Marshall, Role Models, Fast And Furious 4, The Day The Earth Stood Still, and Inception. Charlsey has a bachelor degree in film with a minor in economics. She constantly looks for innovation in content and believes it is the only way to adapt as a filmmaker in this ever-changing market.

Aug 21, 2014

An expert producer’s look at the past, present, and future of serial programming

 

Last week, I had the pleasure of talking with Kelly Hayes, a current Hollywood producer and Voyage team member, about what it’s like to work in all corners of the industry, and how the classic forms of development for network, cable, and film compare to the emerging market of digital streaming. This is the first of an ongoing series that asks our producers about their work in the entertainment industry so that YOU can learn from their wealth of experience!

Hayes’ many credits have ranged from formats in scripted and reality television, film, and digital streaming series. Today, he has a lot of plates spinning in every market you can think of, with ongoing projects in half-hour comedy, hour-long drama, reality, and feature film. To say he’s got a bit of experience is an understatement.

Although Hayes started his career in film, an economic downturn coupled with the WGA strike of 2008 served to destabilize the film industry, and prompted Hayes to look into other options. Television was his next best choice to keep following his passion—and it took some relearning to make it work.

 

Looking Ahead

The biggest change to the process of development in film and television was the notion of planning much further ahead into the future of the project. “It’s ’where do I see this show at episode 100?’” says Hayes of the development process for the life of a series, “versus, ‘I have 90 minutes to tell my story and then it’s done.’”

The core of making a great and lasting show lies in its planning. Although there’s no guarantee at the pitch or even the pilot stage that a TV show will be picked up for one or more seasons, it’s important to know early on what lies in the future of the series—what is it going to be like at episode 100? When Hayes works on a pitch for a television series, he always includes a roadmap of where the show is headed:

“In the development stage, always look ahead and have an idea of what’s gonna happen in season 1 and season 2 […] and all the way up to season 5: if you’re lucky enough to make it that far, you know you’re doing something right.” This way of thinking is a far cry from the one-and-done mentality of many commercial features. Although popular movies can spawn sequels, series by necessity must create a story engine that will keep the show moving for years to come.

Of course, just because a plan is made doesn’t mean that it becomes law. It’s just as important to leave wiggle room for the writers—with new ideas coming to light, changes in development, and current events changing audience viewpoints every day, even the best-laid plans for a series can change. Hayes’ advice to any writers in the process of planning their own series is to remember that “once you get in the writer’s room, everything’s gonna change.” It’s very important to have a solid plan, but equally important to be able to adapt to changes in that plan.

As mutable as scripted television can be, it doesn’t even hold a candle to the quickly-shifting world of reality TV—another arena that Hayes is quite familiar with.

 

Real TV

“Reality,” says Hayes, “is a very different beast.” Although there is one glaring difference between scripted and unscripted television—that is, the task of editing a coherent story out of the daily lives of real people rather than falling back on a script--there can also be other more unexpected challenges to overcome.

The first is getting a great idea to perform in a way that’s compelling to audiences. What can start out as a great idea for a reality show can fall apart if every aspect isn’t perfectly in place. Because of the true-life nature of reality shows, this can depend on luck just as much as it does on planning.

Hayes related to me the story of his attempt to get a reality show based on the lives and work of samba dancers to air. Nothing was fundamentally wrong with the idea—it was exciting, flashy, unique, and a little bit sexy. And with the World Cup approaching, the customs and cultures of Brazil were on everyone’s mind. But as fate would have it, the show was never able to make it to air. And since the industry moves as quickly as does audience taste, the idea was indefinitely shelved.

Another challenge is adapting the development process to facilitate real-life stories. For a scripted show, Hayes will generally find a writer, work on a pitch, and plan the show out over the possibility of a couple seasons. But with unscripted TV, the pitch lies in the discovery of talent—finding a cast of weird and wonderful characters that already exist somewhere out there in the world.

There’s no doubt that bizarre personalities capable of being the engine for a show are out there. But how they come to Hayes usually happens in one of two ways: either he’ll come up with an idea and try to find a community or person that fits that profile, or someone will find him through an agent.

There’s always a risk in trying to search out talent willing and capable to participate in a TV show. Sometimes it doesn’t pay off, as happened with the proposed samba series, but risk can also reap rewards when serendipity and hard work come together to make a show a success.

While Hayes was coming up with an idea for a new reality show based on community service parolees, a scripted show came across his desk for nearly the exact same idea. That show became Bad Samaritans, a comedy show Hayes produced for Netflix. The show went on to be a hit, garnering a 3.5 star rating on Netflix based on 25,000 reviews and moving Hayes into success in the digital sphere.

 

Rise of the Digital Titans

Netflix has become a production powerhouse in its own right. Having just passed its 50 million subscribers mark, digital streaming is beginning to have serious reach in the film and TV industry.

With digital cable dominating the industry, bringing in younger and more tech-savvy viewers, and muscling out the old paradigms of network television, how different is producing a digital series compared to producing a show for a traditional network?

According to Hayes, not as different as you might think. “In terms of developing for broadcast cable versus the digital space, there really isn’t a difference. You need the same things: you need a great story, you need a showrunner, and a piece of talent that everybody wants to work with.”

If anything, the advent of digital television gives producers more options than ever through which to create a show. Hayes warns writers and producers alike not to try and pigeonhole their story ideas into just one format: if a story is good, it should be given the best chance possible to get made. And sometimes, digital media can be the answer to a show that’s having trouble fitting into a bigger network’s brand. “The digital world opens up a little bit because they’re not so stringent on what their brand is. They’re more: ‘how many people can I get watching these shows?’””

However, the profitability of digital media is so new that creators often overlook it. But for those looking to increase the possibility of a studio picking up their project, digital streaming is still an open world hungry for new work that will build their brand and visibility. It’s up to you to take advantage of that need!

 

Make Some Noise

According to Hayes, the buzzword in the industry right now is “noisy.” There are a lot of producers, Hayes included, that are always on the lookout for something new, something edgy, something that hasn’t been done better somewhere else. A writer’s best chance at getting noticed lies in their ability to create the most original premise for their market.

But Hayes also warns to stay away from “gimmick.” Your story should stand out from the crowd, but also have the heart, emotion, and care to bring your audience back again and again to your work. It can be a fine line to navigate, but one that will pay off immensely to both an audience and a producer. So don’t be afraid to make some noise!

Still think you’ve got more to learn from the real industry professionals? Don’t worry: more interviews with working producers like Hayes are coming soon! Stay tuned to the blog for new insights and interviews with more of Voyage’s own producing team members--and, if you haven't already, sign up below for more email updates!

 

About Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes is a producer and development executive working in feature film, scripted and unscripted television, and digital series. He has spent the past four years working for The Walt Becker Company as the Director of Development and Production as well as working as an independent producer.

On the feature side, Kelly was instrumental in the development and sale of Boys Are Stupid Throw Rocks At Them at Universal. He also attached the director Nzingha Stewart to the 2012 Blacklist script Doppelgangers, written by Evan and Shea Mirzai. Kelly’s other feature script Office Fight! has John Scott attached to direct and Clark Duke attached to star. Leading up to his time at The Walt Becker Company, Kelly was an Associate Producer on the Walt Disney Studios film Old Dogs starring John Travolta and Robin Williams.

In television, Kelly has led the sale of numerous projects such as Thunderballs at Spike, Black Girls Are Easy at VH1, Sweat at ABC Family, Glory Daze at TBS and Heaven at Starz.

In the unscripted space, Kelly produced and directed the sizzle reel for Jesus Freaks which is awaiting a pilot order at E!, and developed other pilots for TBS and VH1. Kelly has sold digital series to Fox Digital Studios that include the animated comedy Thrilla and the live action show Better Off Dad. He produced the Fox Digital series Bad Samaritans, which is streaming on Netflix and has received 3.5 stars on over 25,000 reviews.