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AbsoluteWrite 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 romance?

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 before signing?

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 career?

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 chance?

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.
 
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