Interview with Rob Gallagher
by Jenna Glatzer
Rob Gallagher has been a literary feature,
television, and packaging agent, and Development VP. He is
now a manager, producer and head of the literary department
at Cyd LeVin and Associates, Inc.
It seems to me that being a manager
is similar to the "mission statement" in JERRY MAGUIRE--
fewer clients, more attention. How important was this to you
in your decision to switch from agenting to managing?
Very important. Being an agent was very unrewarding. It's
like being a stockbroker where you have to speak with 300
people a day and have very little time for your actual clients.
Eventually, most successful agents will leave to form their
own companies with a few of their favorite clients. Now I
spend tons of time with my clients -- they are my friends.
We hang out and discuss strategies and then I get on the phone
and work my tail off. My clients all say I get them 20 times
the meetings their agents get them, and meetings turn into
relationships, which turn into money.
Is your personal taste of genres/subject
matter at play when you read a query letter? For example,
would you be more inclined to pick a sci-fi script over a
No. I'm looking for a fresh spin on a story I've never heard
before regardless of genre. I'm looking for stories I would
want to go see at the movies. Most of the time I hear the
same old action or romance stories. I guess these writers
don't get out to the movies enough because I've seen their
scripts on the screen already. If you want to be a screenwriter,
you need to be a movie buff too.
One of the main reasons screenwriters
seek representation is because they are afraid to "sell
themselves." How does this work in pitch meetings, interviews,
etc.? Do you handle meetings for writers, do you attend them
together, or is a writer still expected to fly solo in front
of agents and producers?
Well the system is set up so that writers can't sell themselves
even if they wanted to. Some executives say they have an open
door to unrepresented writers, but the truth is they don't
take them very seriously and your script will be added to
a pile that their reader will get to someday. This isn't where
you want to be. Yes, I coach my clients before they go into
meetings. I have extensive databases on every exec going back
for years that tell me exactly what their likes and dislikes
are. After every meeting, I have clients write up a report
on how it went and what they responded to, and this is all
shared with other writers before they go in to meet. I've
never heard of anyone else going to this length to prepare
their clients and consequently my clients do very well. Occasionally
I'll join a meeting but this is really my clients time to
bond with the executive so I keep my mouth shut unless I'm
needed to jump in.
You are quite open to 'meeting' writers
over the Internet. Why? Does it matter to you if a writer
is in Hollywood versus Iowa?
Yes, some of my best clients I found online. It doesn't matter
if you live in Beverly Hills or Australia, there are good
writers everywhere. The Internet is a great vehicle for bringing
us all closer together. Of course it's easier to take meetings
if you live in town, but I've sold specs for writers that
live outside LA too.
As a manager, one of your functions
is to help your clients find agents. Wouldn't there be a risk
that once the writer had an agent, he/she would drop you and
stick with the agent to avoid a double commission?
That's a good question. First of all a writer doesn't need
an agent if they are with me-- they just need an entertainment
attorney to negotiate their deals. But I'm always happy to
help a client find an agent, mostly because they never leave
me once they see how much I do for them compared to their
agents. I'm not bashing agents; I used to be one. The fact
of the matter is agents have too many clients to be very effective
for any of them but the very top writers. You're going to
need an attorney to negotiate for you regardless; agents aren't
qualified to do this even though they are licensed to do so.
I also will often waive my commission if I'm attached as a
producer -- so there isn't much of a double commission problem
with my clients and I've never had a client leave me for their
agent. If anything, they fire the agent once they see how
little an agent does for them.
Can you explain a bit of the process
from signing a client to a sale?
Sure. A spec is rarely ready for the spec market when I first
get it, so we often go through a couple drafts with my development
execs to get it perfect for the very difficult spec market.
I then spend about two weeks prior to the spec talking to
over a hundred of my producer friends getting them excited
about the spec release. I never slip a spec out to anyone
prior to the release, so the morning of the release I usually
have about 70 messengers waiting outside my door to race each
other back to the studios. Most agents only send a spec out
to one producer at each studio. That's fine for the agent
to make favors off your spec, but not as effective for the
writer as sending it to multiple producers at each studio.
It vastly increases the urgency with which the producers read
and value your spec. It also vastly increases the number of
friends you're going to make around town. Once we start to
get offers in, I turn the negotiations over to an entertainment
attorney who is known for record setting deals. From this
point, my client and I just hang out to hear from the attorney.
It can be a pretty exciting ride at times.
Once a writer is offered representation,
what are some of the important questions he/she should ask
I think this is a little backwards. Before you send your
script to anyone, make sure you know who they are and why
you are sending your spec to them. Be careful about who you
expose your spec to or even tell about it. Writers should
only send their specs to agents or managers they already know
they would want to sign with. If you're not sure, then this
isn't the rep for you. Spend more time to find creative ways
to get to your dream rep and if they still don't respond,
then look closer at your pitch letter or your writing. That's
most likely the area that needs work.
Of what are you most proud in your
There are so many things that come to mind that I feel it
isn't fair to single out any single accomplishment but one
of my favorites is the sale of SMUGGLER'S MOON to Warner Bros.
This is a great story because every agent in town had passed
on this script. Luckily, I set up a huge spec release where
every producer was fighting to get this script. Then every
agent in the business came out of the woodwork to sign my
client. We both still laugh about it to this day -- all the
way to the bank.
If you get a script with a fantastic
concept, but poor execution, would you give the writer a second
Yes, that's what I meant when I said often a script goes
through a couple drafts with my development execs before I
release it to the market. A script needs to be perfect to
succeed in today's marketplace, and you need all the help
you can get. Some scripts never reach that point and that's
too bad. We do everything possible to get the writer there,
but the ones that make it are very successful.
Is there ever a situation where you
don't heed your reader's recommendation (by reading a script
the reader marked "pass," or passing on a script
the reader said to consider)?
Rarely. My readers are all very trusted and experienced.
If a script can't get past a reader, then it certainly won't
get past me or a producer. We are far harsher critics of material.
If the script gets a "Pass," then it's over. If
it gets a "Consider" or a "Recommend,"
then I send it out for a second set of notes, and those two
sets of notes are then given to the writer to perform a second
draft or polish. We do this until we get double "Recommends"
from two readers and then we release the spec. It's a great
system and I've never heard of anyone else helping their writers
with anything even close. Most reps just release the spec
if it's mediocre, hoping it might sell. Unfortunately, they
then get a reputation for going out with mediocre material
and the producers read their specs with skepticism. I only
go out with specs that are in fantastic shape and consequently,
I get hundreds of producers calling me to find out what my
next releases will be. My reputation is everything to me and
this reflects well on my clients.
Writers are often frustrated by the
slow or non-existent replies by those 'in the biz.' Even with
SASEs included, many queries go unanswered, and many scripts
seem to vanish in the great Hollywood Black Hole. Should the
writer ever follow up on submissions?
I don't think so. If you haven't heard back then they just
aren't interested. Your query letters are opened and read
by someone. What you have to do is create a query letter that
will entice them to call you immediately over the thirty others
on their desk that day. There are lots of ways to do that,
but I'm not telling.
Is there any system of regulation for
managers (like the WGA for agents)? (If not, how are we to
know if a manager is legit, other than through their own words?)
No, there isn't yet. Managers are only around because agents
aren't doing their jobs effectively and writers are very dissatisfied.
In the past five years, most of the top agents have all gone
into management -- there's a reason for that. The agent system
just doesn't work well enough. As for knowing who is legit,
this goes back to an earlier question where I said don't make
submissions to people you haven't heard of and know you would
want to sign with. Definitely don't sign with managers who
haven't been agents -- they generally don't know what they
need to know. Personally, I was a Development VP at a major
production company with a studio deal, then an agent at two
of the top agencies, then Head of Literary for two top management
firms. You don't get credentials like that unless you know
what you're doing and are successful. I think if you find
a manager with at least one past appointment similar to mine
you should be fine, but I think my experience as both a buyer
and a seller makes me unique in the business and a greater
asset to my clients and more understanding of what the buyers
are looking for.
You found the writer of SMUGGLER'S
MOON on the internet. What's happening with that script and
its writer now?
SMUGGLER'S MOON is now at Warner Bros with an approved budget
over 75 million and Will Smith attached to star. The writer
has since gone on to set up several other projects, has met
with everyone in town, and is highly sought after. He's a
very happy man, suffice it to say.
Any further advice for new writers?
Keep writing. Everyone says this but very few writers work
as much or as fast as they should. Don't be in such a rush
to sign with any rep you can find -- that's not the secret
to success. First impressions are often the last ones you'll
get to make, so be careful and make sure you're ready. Finally,
if you're going to pitch to me, please carefully follow the
instructions on my website (www.robgallagher.freeservers.com).
I look forward to reading your pitch.