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Preferred Artists' Paul Weitzman: Keep in Touch

The words have to be on the page. The work must be excellent. But that alone won't bring you success as a screenwriter. Outside of great writing, what else is important? To tackle this topic, we tapped an expert who works every venue across the board from half hour comedies to feature films, Preferred Artists Literary and Talent Agent Paul Weitzman.

Paul has 15 years experience representing writers, directors and producers in TV comedies and dramas, animation, feature films and more. His clients have worked for 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, Disney, CBS Paramount, Sci Fi Channel, FX, Lifetime Television, Spike TV and Hallmark Entertainment. A prolific slate of clients includes "August Rush" feature screenwriter Paul Castro, who as a UCLA grad student scored a three picture deal before graduation; and "Dr. Dolittle: Tail to the Chief" scribe Matthew Lieberman, who recently sold a hot pitch for "The Pet" to Disney. In television, NAACP Image Award-winner Millicent Shelton directs many half hour shows including "Earl" and "Everybody Hates Chris." Recently, Sandra Cassaro sold an original series called "Kid Knievel" to Disney. Pat Charles is writing for FX's new drama "Sons of Anarchy," writers Becky Mann and Audra Sielaff are working on FX's "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and Jessica Lopez is scripting NBC's upcoming "Kath and Kim."

Paul is the son of veteran Hollywood agent Lew Weitzman (now an agent for 55 years), who launched Preferred Artists 20 years ago with agent Roger Strull. Paul started out representing talent and then moved over to represent half hour comedy writers where he continued to expand his stable and build client careers.

What traits are vital to a long term career? What's important to know when marketing yourself? What kind of scripts are in demand right now? In this interview, Paul answers these questions and more.

Q: Representatives sometimes talk about clients that have built their own fan base in the studios, with producers, etc. Is this something that is important to you?

A: Definitely. It's a team effort. What the client does augments what an agent can do. There are a lot of agents out there who are in the "incoming call" business; that's not us. We do a lot of legwork. Our agency acts as a management company. We're agents, but we really work hands-on with our clients. We encourage our clients to get out there and take advantage of not only the contacts that they have, but also the ones that we build for them and introduce them to. In addition to [clients] going out there, meeting people, being seen and doing a lot of their own networking, we set people up with clients and we encourage our clients to keep in touch with those people and to maintain those relationships.

Part of a problem is that when we introduce clients to people in town -- to studio executives and network executives -- they take that meeting and then don't follow up on that relationship. It's a big thing for clients to be able to network; this is their business that they are building. They need to maintain those relationships that we help build for them as well as relationships they build on their own.

Q: Suppose you have one very well-written script from every genre sitting on your desk. Would there be one script that is easier to sell, or to use to procure work for a client?

A: Family films are really big right now. Everybody is looking for a family picture. Thrillers -- people are always looking for thrillers. Dramas are different. Dramas are more difficult, more cast contingent; they become a little more difficult to sell. I would say the broad comedies, the family movies, and then the thrillers are a little bit easier.

Q: Is there a type of company or venue that is better suited for a new writer?

A: I think it really depends on the project. If a newer writer comes to the table with a piece of property -- a book, an attachment -- that's an easier way to go. It's really concept-driven.

Breaking into television is tough right now. Especially in the half hour world -- the half hour comedy. If you're not a writer's assistant or an executive producer's assistant, it's very difficult to get in. An agent can go out there and push material, but a lot of times, executive producers in half hour comedies -- and even one hours -- they're hiring assistants that have been with them for years, paying their dues. So, unless you've got a piece of material that is simply outstanding -- and hopefully that's original material, because original material these days is going a long way -- that kind of thing is really important.

As far as breaking a new writer in the feature business, it's really about the material. We sold "The Pet," which was a pitch from a writer that had one DVD original film. That's it. And "The Pet" was a big, big pitch sale. It was all concept-driven.

As far as spec scripts go, they're difficult to sell, but if it's on the page you could be anybody. You could be an 800-year-old Martian. It wouldn't make any difference as long as you've got a marketable piece of material that's well executed. Again, it's all about the marketability of the project.

Q: What traits are important for a lasting career as a writer?

A: I think tenacity is number one. If you really want it, you have to stick with it and take the punches, because there are going to be quite a few.

Writing is just part of the equation. The ability to get in there and meet with people and gel with them is [the other] half of the battle. A lot of people get it on the page, but when they get into a meeting with executive producers or studio people, they really don't connect. Some people have a tough time communicating in a room. Half the equation is having the piece of material to go in there and open that door, but the other half is getting in there and wowing someone about your background, your abilities, who you are. In episodics, they call that "the hang factor," [the ability to] hang in the room with other writers, executive producers and showrunners. They're not only looking for people who are great writers, but who can also gel in the room with the chemistry of the other writers that the showrunner has already chosen.

Q: When they don't connect, do you think that's due to lack of preparation?

A: I like to prep clients as best I can as far as who they are meeting with; what that person's credits are; and who they've worked with in the past that might be connected to someone the client knows, having that common denominator.

Sometimes, it does happen -- somebody goes into a room based on a piece of material and they're kind of reserved in a meeting and they're not engaging and they're not asking questions and they seem more reactionary in the meeting. I've got a couple clients like that where they've got terrific material and you get them in a room and they're just too quiet.

Q: I have no relationship with InkTip, but I did notice that your name came up quite a few times on their Web site as someone that's taken on clients through that service. Do you consider InkTip or similar resources good places for writers to show their work?

A: Absolutely. It's exposure. I know a lot of producers out there that canvass InkTip looking for projects. I've had clients who have submitted to InkTip and have gotten work out of it or optioned scripts from it. You have to blanket yourself out there as a writer and get the exposure.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: To summarize, I think that you have to be creative in the way that you market yourself. You have to be aggressive enough to ask people for the read on the material. Some people are reluctant. Query letters aren't going to do a lot of good. People need to use their contacts as much as they can. Most people know somebody who is in the business. Newer writers should use the assistants that are out there, because the assistants are very hungry, sometimes much more hungry than the executives or the producers that are out there, because the assistants really want to prove themselves. A lot of times, they'll read. They're also the gatekeepers to their bosses, to their companies. Treat them with a lot of respect. There are a lot of assistants that climb the ranks really quickly in this business. Be nice to everybody because you never know.

Manager Dannie Festa briefly discussed "The Pet" in this recent interview: https://www.moviebytes.com/wbw/HollywoodIQ.cfm?ColumnID=3137.

Would you like to have your question answered by pros working in the industry? If there's a topic you'd like to see addressed in this column, please send me an e-mail (CindyRinaldi@visionization.com) with "WBW" in the subject line.

Updated: 08/28/2008
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