Development Exec Sebastian Twardosz
Sebastian Twardosz attended USC film school as an undergraduate where he produced a highly acclaimed student film, which won many awards. Because of that film, he landed a job at ICM as an assistant to a literary agent. He currently works at CW Productions (Tom Cruise and Paul Wagner's Production company) as a development executive.
SSSD: Spec Screenplay Sales Directory
TWARDOSZ: Sebastian Twardosz
SSSD: What is the responsibility of a development executive?
TWARDOSZ: First of all, to keep up with all the submissions that you're getting. Usually the person that you're working for--the producer, director--gets their own submissions. A lot of times they'll get submissions from the agencies, or from friends, and they'll get things from everywhere, basically. So, usually you have to be on top of all of that.
The other thing is you have to track what's coming out. Usually for spec screenplays, you have to be aware of what's about to come out, like what writers are working on, and when it's going to be ready. Usually you can talk to agents and track that. Some people's entire jobs, are trackers, and what they do is they try to find out when scripts are coming out, when specs are coming out.
And then, you have to bring in your own material because the only way to keep moving up in this business is to find your own projects. So if you can find something for a producer, like a spec or a writer that the producer may want to work with, that's great because that's good for you and it's the way to shine.
SSSD: You said you read practically everything that gets submitted?
TWARDOSZ: I know everything that comes into the company because that's one of my jobs, but I don't read everything because there are other development people, and so they'll look at their own submissions. Anything that we buy here never gets read by just one person; it's always two or three people. It all makes the rounds here so everybody gets familiar with things. But if you ask, "Do you read everything that gets submitted to you personally?" the answer is, "Yes, at our company everyone does."
SSSD: How does a development executive find material?
TWARDOSZ: There are two kinds of material. There's the spec script or you can call it an available script--something you can buy. And there's writing samples. The writing samples are usually scripts that either have already been bought or produced or scripts that unfortunately for whatever the conditions, were never bought but were good writing samples. And if you read enough of those, you get a good taste of who the good writers are, and you can then bring them in for meetings and hopefully get them an assignment. I don't know what the percentage is, but many writers make their living from rewriting somebody else or rewriting another project. And a lot of times you have projects that you need to be rewritten by somebody else with a different strength that the first writer may not have had. You're going to have to be very familiar with all the writers out there so you can bring them in on the appropriate projects.
SSSD: So, you're meeting with writers all the time and reading their material?
TWARDOSZ: Yeah, all the time. All the time. That's the writing part. And then there's the directing part, and that's just being very familiar with who the directors are out there, trying to find projects for them. Because a lot of directors aren't writers. They're always looking for directing assignments, so you're looking to match the right directors with your own projects, or sometimes develop a project for a director.
SSSD: Does everything that gets submitted to CW Productions come from either an agent, producer, manager or lawyer?
TWARDOSZ: Yes. And the reason for that is you're protecting yourself on a legal basis.
SSSD: What if someone already in the business recommends something…
TWARDOSZ: Actually that's a good way to get an agent, I think, is to have a development person who really loves your script and recommends it to an agent. Whenever a buyer recommends something, agents are going to take it very seriously because that's somebody who has bought things from them before. It's the "who you know" scenario, which is always, always relevant. You take that seriously.
SSSD: Besides having a great screenplay with great commercial potential, what really matters in terms of getting the screenplay produced?
TWARDOSZ: Friendships, relationships matter. Sometimes an actor/actress is looking for a very particular kind of story or character and a script may have that. Sometimes it's just a straight spec sale, and in a spec environment, no one knows what the script is--the heat is so hot that somebody just buys it because they're afraid that somebody else might get it first. I have heard of that happening at other companies. There's so many other things that go into it, because how else can you explain the bad movies that are out there? On the other hand, how else can you explain a movie like THE FUGITIVE, which is a great movie, that took seven years to get made.
All kinds of stuff goes into it--which should be a good thing for writers because I definitely don't believe in the theory that you have to write the best possible screenplay, has to be better than everybody else's, and it has to be Shakespeare to get sold. That's b------. It's all completely subjective. You should do the best you can and make it the best you can make it. You have to be happy with what you've written. You can't just put s--- out there with your name on it unless you don't care. You have to make it the best you can, but it doesn't have to be better written than anything else out there--it doesn't apply and I think there's so much more that goes into it.
SSSD: Along those lines, how important is the high concept logline?
TWARDOSZ: That makes it easier [to sell] because what happens is you have a lot of people who are very, very busy. I mean, there's so much coming at you that if somebody can come at you with a clear concept, it makes you more attentive to it….[If] somebody can tell you something in like five minutes what it is, the concept, it's much easier than if you have to sit there for [a long time] and [they] give you all the intricacies of it--unless that's what you're looking for. The concept just cuts through all the other stuff that's coming at a person because people are assaulted from every direction from a lot of different people by a lot of different things, so the clearer you can make that concept, the easier it is for that person to get it and on top of that to convince other people to get it.
SSSD: Then for new writers, their chances of selling a screenplay are better if they have a high concept logline?
TWARDOSZ: In some instances, it makes it easier to sell it; I wouldn't say "better." It's all completely subjective. I don't really believe in the idea of a "bad script." It's just not the right script, or something. Sometimes I guess you can see bad writing, but it's not really bad writing, it's just inexperience.
SSSD: Do you only take submissions from the top agencies in town or any of the agencies?
TWARDOSZ: We take submissions from every agency, absolutely. We have relations with agents from all kinds of companies, different areas. It's all relationships. Some of our best projects and the writers working on some of our best movies are from smaller boutique agencies, or they're from even single agents who have great clients. You're looking toward the people who can deliver, and those people aren't always at the big agencies, and great agents don't always work at the big agencies.
SSSD: Would you recommend that a new writer try to work with a smaller agency as opposed to one the mega agencies?
TWARDOSZ: I recommend that the writer work with the agent who most likes his/her material. Everyone says you have to be wary because you can drown at a big agency, they can overlook you, but if there's an agent that really responds to your script, he/she is going work for you, no matter what. So, it doesn't matter where the agent is.
SSSD: What happens when you read a screenplay you like? What's the next step?
TWARDOSZ: I try to convince at least one other person at the company to like it, and then if two of us like it, we take it up the ladder.
SSSD: Does everything you read get covered?
TWARDOSZ: Yes, you read everything and you cover it for reference.
SSSD: Do you think it's more difficult for screenwriters who live outside California to sell a script?
TWARDOSZ: It makes it much harder, I really think it does. Unless it's an established writer. I think most of this industry is a "who you know" type of scenario. It's all relationships, it really is. And it makes it much harder [to not live in California]; although, never impossible. I think there was something in the trades about 6, 9 months ago about some guy who was in New Jersey and he was working at a grocery store or something, and he was writing screenplays and finally a prominent producer set up one of the guy's scripts because he liked it. So, it's definitely not impossible, but it makes it much harder.
SSSD: Any suggestions for screenwriters hoping to make their first sale?
TWARDOSZ: I'm a firm believer that you can get anything you want out of life. If you want to sell a script, you're gonna sell a script. If you want to be a successful Hollywood writer, you'll be one. For some people it takes a very short period of time because the conditions are right. For others, it takes a very long period of time. But I think persistence is always the key, and I think also that the people who make it in Hollywood are survivors, are persistent and didn't give up. And also, those who have had a lot of knocks--those are really the ones who make it. Some people are like flares; they'll shoot up right away and then they'll fizzle out real fast. The truly successful are the ones who stick to it, and also people who come back. You can also get philosophical about it. It may take a lot of time, but I don't think anybody would ever say it's impossible because there are a lot of people out there who come from very strange places who are doing very well--people who you might have thought never could have made it; yet, here they are and they're very successful. I think anyone can do it.
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