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Done Deal Interview with Rob Gallagher
by World Wide Will
Rob was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Europe, later attending the University of Munich. Rob has worked in intelligence for the NSA and later for Sprint in their International Markets. His first position in the Entertainment Industry was for IVY Entertainment were he quickly rose to VP of Development, later agenting at APA and Major Clients Agency before entering management as Head of Literary for Messina Baker. Rob is now Head of Literary for Cyd LeVin & Assoc. where he works as a Literary Manager and Producer. He enjoys Sailing, Surfing, Diving, Tennis, Golf, Soccer, Mountain Biking, Camping -- almost anything outdoors.

How long have you been with Cyd LeVin & Associates and give me a little history of the company and what it does?
I've been with Cyd for a year now. Historically the company has worked in talent management. Cyd hired me to head a formal literary department to compliment the talent efforts. We have offices in New York and Los Angeles. We represent writers for features and television, and we look for projects for our clients to star in. Occasionally we will also produce projects.

What are the big and even small differences between managers and agents?
The biggest difference is time -- how much time your representative will spend on your career. Agents have hundreds of clients and can only spend a little time on each. I used to be an agent so I know that world very well. Agents don't spend enough time on a client to really make a difference. Agents will send your script out to a handful of companies they think may be appropriate. In contrast, I spend weeks pitching your script to every major buyer in the industry (about seventy companies) and then release the spec simultaneously to on average 50 of them. Agents sending specs out to only a couple at a time kills the property as soon as one person dislikes it. Production companies all talk to each other every day -- the executives share information and are friends. If one exec dislikes your spec he'll tell everyone and your spec will then be dead because no one else will read it (even if they say they will). Specs have to go wide to everyone at the same exact time so that execs actually read it and form their own opinions and then are racing against each other to bid. Agents rarely do this -- they have far too many clients and far too much material to service.

You worked as an agent for a while correct? What was that like and why did you switch to managing?
I agented at two agencies before getting into management. Agenting is not very rewarding. It's like being a stockbroker -- you spend all day on the phone with buyers and very little time with clients. Working closely with writers to develop their ideas into polished screenplays is extremely gratifying and a lot of fun.

Since managers cannot ultimately make the actual deals how do you help in the process?
Managers are not licensed to negotiate deals so I have an attorney or agent do this. I still have to approve the deal for my client and take part in making sure they get the right deal. Now you don't need an agent and you don't need a manager -- you can just have an attorney negotiate your deals. I believe in having a full team on your side though, especially to launch your career properly amongst the thousands of writers out there. The agent covers the marketplace better than anyone else -- only an agency has this manpower. The attorney negotiates your deals better than anyone else and occasionally can also make some nice connections for you. The manager is the only one who will really spend time with you and your writing, and the manager brings your whole team together to work for you strategically. The manager also works with multiple agencies and is consequently going to know everything that is going on in the marketplace, and best of all, will share this information with you (agents won't).

How much do you rely on coverage? How about the rest of the industry?
I use coverage as much as the rest of the industry. Generally companies use as much coverage as they can afford. The more coverage you use the more time you can spend on your clients. Basically I use coverage for script submissions that are made to me. I get about 60 pitches per day from writers and request about one script in 60. So I send about seven scripts per week in for coverage.

Do you lean heavily on a reader's comments about a script? Does that sway your opinion?
Definitely. Everyone's opinion is valid. Basically I take the suggestions given in coverage and weigh them against my industry experience and then advise the client on what changes to make. Ultimately it's always the writer's decision as no one knows the vision better and it's their property. My readers are all very experienced in development and a few of them are industry executives that read as a favor to me and in exchange for a look at upcoming specs.

What makes you want to keep reading a script?
An original or unique story line which keeps me guessing. As soon as I feel I've read or seen this before or I know what's going to happen next then it's over -- unless it's brilliantly executed of course.

What makes you want to put one down or dismiss it?
The first ten pages. If you can't hook me in ten pages then you won't hook the studio. I can also tell how well the script is written in ten pages and if it has any hope. I've heard so many writers say you have to read the whole script to understand it. I know that's true, but I also know this is a sales business, and you better hook the buyer in the first ten minutes or you won't get any further.

Does it take awhile for you to get back to a writer about their script? And either way, why?
I can usually get back to the writer in about a week and only because I have so many readers working with me. I'll get to an online pitch within a day. If I request the script, I'll have it read by one of my team within a week - maybe two if there is a backup. If the coverage comes back great, I'll read it myself within a week. If I love the script, I'll call the writer and tell them my thoughts. We start working on the script together to get it in the best possible shape and I'll plan on going out with it to the spec market within a couple months once it's ready and depending on my schedule. Nothing happens overnight in this business and with millions of dollars at stake, it's surprising it moves as quickly as it does. Be patient and get your writing in shape before you ruin your first impression.

Is there anything that you feel all writers should know about the process of submitting scripts that many still don't seem to get?
As always, never submit a script unless you're sure the manager or agent specifically is interested in everything about your script. Otherwise it's a waste of everyone's time. Agents are so busy, you'll never really understand just how busy someone can be until you work in an agency. It's unbelievable. Start with a manager or attorney and have them find you an agent if you decide you want one. Submission letters directly to agents via the writer are almost always thrown out by the assistant.

Your office has a multi-picture deal with Fox. What does that mean and entail?
It basically means that Fox wants us to bring them scripts first. It's an open door and a great studio to make movies with.

What are you looking for in a script besides a good story? In other words, do you worry much about casting it, locations, costs, and so on?
I'm looking for an intriguing story line and solid writing -- I'm looking for movies I would want to see and I'm very picky about movies I see. Everything else is the studio's and producer's business.

Do you take pitch meetings and what are they like for you? What do you see in them that you like and or dislike in terms of presentation?
I've taken and given hundreds of pitch meetings and know everything that can go right or wrong. As a buyer I don't really like to take pitches in person. It's hard not to get excited about a project when the writer is sitting across from you. IÕd rather read the pitch first and judge it on it's own merits first before determining if IÕd want to read the script. As a seller, in person is the only way to give a pitch.

What is your perfect query letter like? What really gets your attention? What's a big turn off or "no, no" for you?
The perfect query letter is one that follows the specific instructions and format for pitching that I give on my web site ( This allows me to quickly and clearly determine if it's a script that interests me. Whenever a writer can't follow simple instructions I know they can't write a clear script and I pass on the pitch. I can quickly determine from the emails that are pitched in the format I requested whether I would be interested or not. I have to love the story concept first. This process gives access to writers who are not otherwise connected and gives me access to material that Hollywood hasn't seen yet. I like to work smart, and in a town where they say it's all about the material, executives sure make it difficult for writers to get their work to them. If email didn't exist I would do it through the mail, but email is so much faster and I can correspond quickly if I need to know more about the material.

How often do you meet with your clients or even talk with them on the phone?
I meet with my clients weekly, sometimes more often if they have active projects, and speak with some of them over the phone once a day. The bottom line is to make sure that everything that can be done is being done by every part of the team.

Can writers, especially new writers, really break into the business and not live in Los Angeles? Why or why not?
And does that matter to you or the rest of the industry where someone lives?

Living in LA definitely helps because it's a business of relationships. You can fly in and out for meetings -- it's just more convenient to live in LA for everyone. I've successfully launched the careers of out of town writers though.

Do you pay much attention to screenplay contest? A good way to get exposure or not?
Not really. Everyone claims to be a finalist in some contest and I don't have the time or interest to check. I decide for myself if I'm interested in the story line and if the writing is great. If you've exhausted all other avenues, then I suppose you may get some exposure with contests. Too many are just money making ventures and won't do anything for you. Of course I always recommend doing everything possible, and sometimes that includes contests to bring attention to your writing. There are only a handful of reputable ones that I know of though.

A lot of new writers ask about the payments for scripts sold. What does "against" mean in the pay out deal? How much should they get for a script? And so on. Could you go into that a little bit?
Writers often get an amount up front for the script and a bonus if the script goes into production. Ò500K against a millionÓ means 500K up front and another 500K if it gets made. Always get at least WGA minimums without a representative and much more with.

What really goes into a contract a writer signs?
A brief over view of the different stipulations, pay periods, perks or no perks, percents, etc. A studio contract covers the terms of the deal and is mostly designed to protect the studio's interests. Anything above that is what you negotiate for.

So a writer doesn't have an agent yet? Is there no hope for them?
Without a representative there is little hope. You don't have to have an agent or manager or attorney, but the more help you get the more hope you'll have.

Any thoughts on entertainment lawyers? Are they someone a writer needs early on?
An experienced entertainment attorney is a great asset especially when it comes to negotiations. I'm a manager and technically can't negotiate deals. Only agents and attorneys can negotiate. So once I get an offer I will call my friends at the agencies and set meetings for the writer. Based on my recommendation and who the writer feels most comfortable with, I then will place the client with that agency. When I'm launching a new writer who just sold a spec, I want a full court press to be pushing the client for every rewrite opportunity in town -- I'm always looking ahead to the next deal for my clients. To that end, it's important to have as many players on the team as possible, including a good entertainment attorney. Many people will ask "well what about the extra commission?" and I explain to them that they should focus on their long term career and not the money they make off their first deal. The additional deals you get from your full team will more than make up for the extra commissions and you will be that much more of a hot property in town.

How much do you feel that managers try to shape a writer's career path? Do you really try to steer certain writers in a particular direction with their writing?
That's the main focus of my job and what managers are famous for and better than anyone else at. Too many agent's will simply try to book you in every available job. Of course you won't get every job, but the buyers will remember that your agent submitted you for everything and that looks desperate and hurts you in the long run. Managers wouldn't survive in this business if there were not a definite need for us. Typically writers will change agents every few years but stay with their manager their entire career -- there's a reason for this. Agents know this and consequently try to commission as many projects as possible no matter what the long term affect on the client is. Managers want to preserve and carefully build the career for the long run because they know they'll be there and they're invested for the long term.

Do you feel a writer is better off focusing on one type of genre in their writing? Or should they try to have a comedy, a drama, and an action script?
Until you develop a successful track record you should stick to one or two genres. You want buyers to think of you for particular genres as being your strength and you lose that with too many genres. Once you're well known you can branch out.

What traits do you like to see most in a new writer? And what least?
I like prolific writers -- that's the sign of a true writer and not a one shot wonder. I like writers who are constantly writing and have many scripts in the works. As a manager, I represent far fewer clients than I did as an agent. Agents represent hundreds of clients, spend little time with them, and have little invested with whether their writing sells or not. With a hundred clients, it's a fair bet that a number of them will find work that you can commission, whether you helped or they found the work on their own and you just commissioned the deal. I hated that aspect of agenting which left me little to feel proud about. Once you book a deal, you have to move on to the next deal, because the agency is constantly pushing you to bring in more and more commissions. That's not very gratifying. Now as a manager I represent less than twenty writers, and to make enough money they have to be extremely prolific creators -- not just someone who wrote one great script. I look for the kind of writer who writes for the love of it and can't stop writing -- not a one shot dreamer who just wants to cash in on a big spec sale. I look for writers who will constantly be creating new projects and who I can partner myself with over the next twenty years and eventually produce with. When I was an agent it was OK for each of the hundred clients to have only one script, but as a manager, mathematically they now need to have five each if I represent only twenty writers. These are just general guidelines to give you an idea of what I look for. Again, I'm looking for real writers, not one shot wonders. Now I do represent single scripts on a case by case basis and the way that works is that writers are invited to pitch their completed specs to me online via my email. If I love their pitch I'll ask for the script and if the writing is there, I'll send it out in the spec market. Most of the time I go through at least three drafts with the writer to help get their spec in the best shape, and I have a team of development people to assist me with this.

Do you work much with writers to rework their scripts? And what is that process like if so?
Almost every script I go out with goes through several drafts. Basically I assign two other story editors along with myself to the script and give the writer extensive notes with each draft until we've worked out every problem.

Is it any more difficult for a writer to sell a script if someone is already attached? Say, a friend is attached as a producer? Or an acquaintance really wants to direct it and that's the only way the writer will give it up?
Many writers naively tell me they have someone attached thinking IÕll get excited. With rare exceptions, any attachments will kill your script. Producers and studios want to pick their own teams and don't want your attachments.

Once a sale finally happens for a writer, what is your next and immediate step with them? Do you send them on meetings? Push to pitch stuff every where?
Typically IÕll have the writer meet with agents and attorneys and once the team is in place we'll set meetings at every studio and production company that is a fan. These meetings are for the execs to get to know the writer personally, to talk about what they are writing next and get feedback from the buyers and what they'd like to see first, and to talk about Open Writing Assignments. Studio Open Writing Assignments make up the majority of writing work in the industry. Almost every script is rewritten by the studio to fix perceived problems -- often several times. Only well known writers can get these assignments.

Does a writer really need to come to you or anyone for that matter with more than one script? How important is that to you and the industry?
Not that important, just nice. The only really important piece is the script they have available. If it's not brilliantly written, then forget it.

Is it really okay for writers to pitch their ideas or is someone going to steal it from them?
Someone can always steal your idea. Log and keep track of every meeting and conversation on a daily basis and that will help should your idea ever get stolen. Everyone knows that ideas can't be protected, so be careful who you share them with. Of course you need to take some risk to be successful.

What should any writer be looking for in a manager? What questions should they ask someone when first meeting with them (a manager) to look for representation?
What is the manager's experience, where have they worked, who do they know, what have they sold. How will they represent you, what is the plan, etc. Don't be afraid to grill the manager or representative. Find someone who will represent you for the long term and someone who really believes in your writing enough to go wide with it. Very few agents will do this, and few managers know how -- but we're out there and very worth finding.
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