Script Magazine Story - Feat. Rachel Long & Brian Pittman


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In this Jan/Feb 2012 Script Magazine article by John Buchanan, sources include: Dan Petrie, Jr., Rachel Long and Brian Pittman. Topic: "Landing Assignments."

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Script Magazine Story - Feat. Rachel Long & Brian Pittman

  1. 1. B Y JOHN BUCHANANTh e B u s i n es s The Business Among the more recent are the Los they delivered a script ahead of their deadline, But there are a lot of people in this business Angeles-based, husband-and-wife team of when producer Hudson began his search who can execute. But after that, it’s a matter Brian Pittman and Rachel Long, both of for writers for a $100 million production of of whether your story sensibility lines up with whom had been cranking out specs for years 1950, a Korean War drama, he hired them to that of the producers. For example, if it’s a before they joined forces in 2008 and began write the script—a job that will now get them comedy project, do you and the producers chasing assignments. Like many others, they into the WGA. find the same kinds of things funny? Do you completed several non-paid assignments as a Since then, they’ve also landed another as- view life in a similar way?” sort of apprenticeship. signment, a World War II story, and become And, adds Petrie, you must be able to take After being sought out by Pittman and self-supporting as screenwriters. notes and work collaboratively. “Some people Long at the writer-focused Austin Film Fes- have very good writing samples, but if you tival in 2008, Petrie asked to read Pittman’s Going Where the Money is give notes, you find they resent them or are finalist script, a drama spec titled Stranded, If your goal is to become a full-time work- defensive,” he explains. “And there are others and liked it. That led to a friendly, ongoing ing writer rather than the hyped-up subject who just can’t deliver under the pressure of a relationship and an assignment to do a quick of a single glowing spec-sale article in Variety, deadline. Those are the two things that really rewrite of a low-budget thriller, Silver Falls, assignments are the way to go, notes Jeff separate the ‘almost there’ from the people already in development and now in produc- Morris, who also launched his career with that make it.” tion at Enderby Entertainment where Petrie initial assignment work. Today, he’s a full- As a newbie, you also have to be willing to is a partner. Petrie is also now slated to direct time, self-supporting screenwriter repped by work in “good faith,” says Morris. “I spent Stranded under the Enderby banner. WME with a couple of spec sales under his six months developing the story with the Despite the project’s relatively low pay belt to boot. first producer I worked with—the legendary and non-WGA status, Pittman and Long “The total amount of money paid out for John Davis (Predator, The Firm, Mr. Popper’s embraced it as a key opportunity to advance assignment work versus specs is much bigger,” Penguins) of Davis Entertainment. It was their careers—and nurture a relationship he states. “That’s where the work is. It dwarfs a warm place to work, but it wasn’t easy. A with Petrie and his producing partner Paul spec sales by about 1,000 to one, probably.” good producer challenges you and that makes Hudson. “Maybe it wasn’t an opportunity to Given that, if he were ever forced to you better.” go buy a condo in Utah,” says Long, a 2002 choose between assignment work and specs, At the same time, Morris says, a new writer Chesterfield Paramount Fellow, “but it was he would opt for the former, Morris admits. must pick projects carefully. “You have to pick absolutely an opportunity to show what we “That’s because you can keep working and ones that are right for you,” he states. “I had had to offer as screenwriters.” make a good living every year.” a ton of meetings after my first spec sale and “We took that assignment on faith and And if regular work and a consistent liveli- I looked at a lot of projects. But, not all of looked at it as a way to help out a producer,” hood is your goal, there are also non-tradi- them were right for me and my sensibilities.There’s more opportunity out there for new scribes than just the fabled spec sale. states Pittman. “Our basic perspective is that you have to open the door any way you can.” tional ways to go about achieving it. For example, Halle Eavelyn, another And one easy way to get quickly driven out of the business is to go after a project you don’tIn fact, writing assignments represent a more reliable path to a genuine livelihood. After years of dedicated hard work, the Silver Falls assignment jump-started a career L.A.-based scribe, has exploited the booming Internet world of personal expression and feel you can execute but you want to chase the dollars.”W for Long and her husband. quest to find people who want their life sto- If a project isn’t right for you, walk away, he hen most aspiring screenwriters And today, with studio and production producers with projects in development, then “The exhilarating thing about assignments,” ries—or some other idea they have—turned advises. “If a studio is willing to pay you a lot imagine their successful against-all- company development budgets severely figure out a way to make contact and form a Pittman explains, “is that you’re dealing with into a movie and are willing to pay to see of money now for an idea you don’t really like, odds assault on Hollywood, they challenged, that tried-and-true strategy for relationship with them. “Then you have to be a project that is going to be in play and a that happen. they’ll be willing to pay you similar money think in terms of a big spec sale that making a name for yourself as a newbie is as able to deliver high-quality work on a dead- movie that is going to get made, because the Her first break came via her cousin’s girl- in the future for something you do feel goodchanges their lives overnight. But there is also viable as ever. line. You have to be reliable and easy to work team and the funding are already in place. friend. She hired Eavelyn to develop a script about,” he says. “But if you take on a projecta less glamorous, more realistic way to break But it requires a different perspective—and with. And, if you can do good work and do it Everybody’s on board and they’re just looking that went on to sell as a spec. “I was paid to and don’t do a good job, you will end yourinto the industry—and that’s a first writ- different skills—than creating a successful on deadline, it represents to a producer that for a writer. That’s a far different experience help develop the story and then ended up relationship with that studio on the spot.”ing assignment that sets them on a path to spec. “It means taking an idea or a draft of not only can you work alone, but you can than taking a script around town for months, being co-writer of the script,” Eavelyn says. Consequently, it helps to have some smallerbecoming a genuine working writer. an existing script and making it better,” says also work collaboratively, that you have the or even years. Getting assignments means you “Then it sold. Now, I’ve done a dozen of assignments under your belt before you pur- “It’s certainly quite difficult,” says veteran Petrie. “And then being able to take it up yet imagination to take ideas other people offer are a working writer.” those scripts and I am making my living as a sue bigger ones, Long says. “My advice to newscreenwriter Daniel Petrie Jr. (Beverly Hills another level and make it better again. And and incorporate them into your own work.” In turn, that reveals a clear path to a real screenwriter.” writers is that in order to get your ‘first greatCop I, II, III, The Big Easy, Turner & Hooch), that’s a different skill set than sitting alone at Of all the new writers Petrie has ever en- career, as opposed to a dream. “Our goal But regardless of whether your path passes assignment,’ make sure it’s not your first greata two-time former president of the Writ- home for six months or a year and writing a countered over the years, only a minority can now,” Long says, “is to meet as many people through Hollywood, or a more adventurous assignment. You need some experience beforeers Guild of America, West. “But it does good spec.” combine all of the traits required to become a in the industry as possible and try to bring route such as Eavelyn’s, there are certain traits that really comes along.”happen. It happened to me—I got a writing For example, Petrie notes, a new writer working writer in Hollywood. “But I’ve also their stories to life.” that are required for success, Morris observes: Must you live in L.A. to start getting work?assignment in 1981, before I qualified to join lusting after that proverbial first assign- seen it happen over and over again during my And based on the exceptional quality of “You have to have the skill sets and be able “It obviously helps,” admits Long. “But ifWGA, because I was cheap.” ment must be able to research and identify career,” he admits. their work on Silver Falls and the fact that to execute,” he says. “It has to be on the page. you’re a good writer and you can go to the24 Script magazine WWW.SCRIPTMAG.COM J A N U A R Y F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 2 Script magazine 25
  2. 2. Th e B u s i n es sAustin Film Festival, or you can get to L.A. Little Christmas, My Horrible Year!). The industry is that, relatively speaking, new talentand attend some WGA functions, or you producers liked our backgrounds and story is cheap. And that’s why they give significantcan get to Sundance—you need to put sensibilities, so we got the job writing the assignments to new writers, because they haveyourself into the places where you can find new film. So, not only do new writers get as- an idea they’re working on, but they don’tproducers who have stories to tell and are signments. But new writers not based in Los want to give it to a $1 million writer. Theylooking for writers.” Angeles get assignments, too. You just have need a $100,000 writer. And that’s how you Even short of that, however, new writers to get out there and find the opportunities— get your first big break, and the studio getsoutside L.A. break in each year, too. and be ready.” what they need.” For example, Tucson attorney Ray White Based on her unique experience, Eavelyn For such studio jobs, you’ll need an agentand his Long Island-based writing partner, agrees that there are ways to overcome the or manager. For smaller jobs, you can getP.J. McIlvaine, won a paid assignment earlier many obstacles that make it so difficult for them on your own. It’s all about how hardthis year to write a mob drama, La Vedova new writers to get that first break. “There are you try and how much you believe in yourself.Nera (The Black Widow), developed and pro- ways around everything, and as long as you But that’s true in any endeavor.duced by New Jersey actor Dennis D’Amico are constantly tenacious and you believe inand funded by co-producer and cardiologist yourself, you can get there,” she states. “It’s JOHN BUCHANAN is an award-Leonard Moss. not that unusual.” winning, nationally published jour- “I had written a treatment for a Marilyn Morris concurs. Despite long odds, he nalist and magazine writer whose work has appeared in more thanMonroe biopic they are producing and they says, new writers land bona fide paid assign- 100 newspapers and magazines.liked my work,” White says. “And P.J. had ments every year. “The industry needs people He is currently a freelance reporter for the globaltwo produced movies to her credit (A Merry to break in every year. The advantage to the news agency Reuters. HE STORY NG COMI RY, JAN UA T 2012 S OLUTION 23 Heroes Must Take Actions All Great Wiese Productions From Michael w A completely nete method to crea powerful scthatn ree ISBN:978-1-61593-084-5 stories $26.95 Published by Michael Wiese Productions Eric Edson get deals “Brilliant.” “Remarkable.” “Laser-sharp insight.” Michael Hauge, bestselling author, Tom Rickman, writer/filmmaker, Michael Peretzian, Sr. V.P., Script Consultant to Will Smith Academy Award nominee The William Morris Agency Soon available at and fine bookstores everywhere26 Script magazine WWW.SCRIPTMAG.COM