Deal Interview with Rob Gallagher
by World Wide Will
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
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
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
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
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 (http://www.ipub.com/robgallagher/). 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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