Still, there are a few cultural differences between the two that it’s worth knowing about. Here’s what I learnt …
1) Agent Representation is a whole different ballgame
Here in the UK, if we’re lucky, we have an agent and they’re a tremendous support to us on the business side. They may help us develop a strategy for our writing career, read and give notes on our work, send our work out and maybe get us some meetings, put us forward for commissions, negotiate deals, handle the contract and chase the money. For this they charge us 10-15% of our earnings plus VAT.
In Hollywood, this work is divided up between three different specialists: the manager; the agent and the lawyer. They charge 10%, 10% and 5% respectively, and yes, you do need one of each. Begin with a manager. They take the time to nurture and bring on new writers. Only when you’re ready to do your first deal will you get an agent (by law only agents can make deals) and that’s also when you’ll bring a lawyer on board.
Here’s the really big difference: in London they say take your time, because choosing your agent is like choosing your spouse – this may be a career-long partnership. In Hollywood, the situation is more fluid. You may get dropped if you don’t bring in enough commission, or you might be the one to switch if your team isn’t helping you win enough work.
MORE: 5 Things Agents Do
2) Don’t drift off and get lost in the weeds when you pitch
Hollywood pitches are really short. They basically consist of the logline + “what this film is” + the unique selling proposition(s).
By “what this film is”, producers mean the concept. It’s the concept that sells the film to investors. Producers get on the phone to potential investors and say, “I’ve got this great movie. It’s this [your concept].”
You’ll know when you’ve got a good one because they’ll say, “Yeah, I can sell that.” 6-10 words is ideal. Legend has it that ‘Alien’ was sold with just these words: “It’s ‘Jaws’ in space.”
The unique selling proposition is the hook for the audience. Try to describe your film in 15 words or less – not the story, more what it’s about. If you were selling, “Hidden Figures,” you might say, “It’s about three black women working at N.A.S.A. during the space race.” Now that sounds absolutely fascinating, doesn’t it?
In addition to this short pitch, you may be asked to go into more detail about the turning points in the story, because that’s where the emotion spikes, or perhaps the characters, especially if you discuss casting, but more of that anon …
3) Know your strengths and hone in on 1 genre – to begin with
On our small island, to make a decent living, a writer needs to be versatile across a range of formats and even genres. Not so much in Hollywood. Managers and Agents will want you to focus on one genre – at least to begin with. This is because their job is based on networking and there are so many people they have to get to know and market you to in any given genre. You make their life difficult if you genre-hop, as they have to start all over again building up your reputation with the folk who deal with that different genre, and that makes it harder for you to get traction.
If you don’t already know, figure out what your genre is. It’s OK to have one of your scripts be outside of that genre, as long as you can connect it to the rest of your body of work by theme – but only one.
MORE: 14 Things I Learned Pitching In Hollywood
4) Producers want to work with writers who are competent and confident
Any meeting is as much about you as a person as your work. Before I went to Hollywood the first time, I was lucky enough to be mentored by Julian Fellowes. One of the best pieces of advice he gave me was, “don’t do the British self-deprecation thing”.
He told me about an experience he had when he was up for an acting job in Hollywood that he really wanted and that he was eminently suitable for. They asked him if he was good at a certain thing, which of course he was, and he answered, “Well, I’m quite good at it”. That “quite” killed his chances dead.
Use positive statements to describe your skills. Banish “quite”, “a bit” and “a little” as qualifiers. But don’t be too cocky!
5) Set aside some dreaming time to work out your dream cast and crew
The rule of thumb in the UK is: don’t mention the actors you’d like to bring your work to life, unless you’re specifically asked to give suggestions. Casting is the director’s prerogative, so you may never be asked.
In Hollywood, you absolutely have to be prepared to discuss casting and potential directors. You’ll find that it’s one of the most fun parts of the meeting when whomever you’re talking to gets all excited and says, “this would be perfect for [insert big-name director or actor]!”
Make sure you’ve thought about your cast and crew, and have something interesting and relevant to say to back up your suggestions.
Ready to take Hollywood by storm? The best of British luck to you!