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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Assistant Files

Assistants are obsessed with lists. We spend at least 40% of our working day
talking to each other about them.*

"Does anyone have a list of mid-range sushi restaurants in Chicago? My boss
is going on set next week. Thanks."

"I'm looking for a list of French novels that were adapted in the 70s."

"Looking for a list of 29-year-old mixed-race lepers for upcoming feature. Musical theater experience preferred. Will compile. Thx."

One of the most popular categories is lists of writers in a particular genre.

How this works is, your boss has a project she's looking to develop, and it's based on an obscure graphic novel about Jesuits with magical powers who can transform themselves (but only into a flock of killer turkeys). So she tells you to find you a list of people she might want to check out.

You are then supposed to magically conjure up a list of one or two dozen writers in this genre. You do this by asking your assistant pals if anyone has a list of sci-fi/action/comics writers. Sometimes they do, sometimes you're forced to collect names and make the list yourself.

The list usually looks something like this:**

NAME(S): Joe Genrewriter

AGENCY: CAA (Antonio Borracho Cohen)


Then you give the list to your boss, and you start collecting writing samples, setting meetings with likely writers, etc.

Why is this important to you, the aspiring screenwriter?

Because you need to decide which list you want to be on***. Are you going to be on the ROMANTIC DRAMA list? The ACTION ADVENTURE list? The FAMILY COMEDY list? The LOW-BUDGET HORROR list? The ROMCOM list, the R-RATED COMEDY list,the SCI-FI list?

There's some overlap. People who are on the ACTION list might also show up on the SCI-FI list. People who are on a ROMCOM list might be on a RAUNCHY COMEDY list, too. But if you have many different interests as a writer, give some thought to which list you want to be on before you start to market yourself. Because if you have three samples, a romcom, a horror, and a sci-fi epic, people are not going to be impressed by your range. People are going to be confused. People will not know how to sell you, how to pigeonhole you, which list to put you on.

(I know, you're convinced that you're the exception.)

The thing is, when your agent calls around about how great your spec is and how my boss should meet with you about any open assignments she has, he needs to be able to pinpoint what kind of stuff you write. Which list you're on. You know how it's confusing and slightly weird when Adam Sandler does serious dramatic roles? It's exactly like that. People want to know before you walk in for your meeting that you're the go-to guy or gal for historical epics. They are, after all, willing to pay you quite a bit of money for your skills, and they want to be sure that they're dealing with an expert, not a generalist dilettante.

*Figure possibly made up.

**Pretend this is in Excel or a table in Word.

***Once in a while people will ask for something really specific, like lists of writers from New Orleans, or people who used to be Navy SEALs or something like that. But you can't really do much about that unless you have a time machine.

The Assistant Files are contributed by one of three anonymous studio assistants. They may or may not answer your comments; they're really busy. But you can try.

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1 comment:

E.C. Henry said...

Thanks for the insight into your world.

One funcional problem I have in conforming to be a writer of a certain genre is the fact my nature is to write in several. AND I think IF you're a good writer, you really need to be able to draw from a wide spectrum of genres: action/adventure, comedy, horror, drama.

Here's where I'm coming from. Say you POUR your heart out into a script for a while, then at the end of that experience you're kinda burned-out. You don't stop writing, you simply write a different story. It keeps you fresher, and, I think, leads to higher quality scripts as opposed to cranking out the same material, which I believe, leads to a progressivley stalier project.

Of all the genres, I would LOVE to be known as a "romantic comedy" writer. But I don't always write in that genre, and will never, ever, force myself to JUST write romantic comedies. But of all the sandboxes I like to visit, playing in the one marked "romantic comedy" makes me the happiest.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA