10 Ways For Emerging or Foreign Talent To Score With Agents

John Hopewell
Variety

LOS CABOS, Mexico — The biggest panel at the Los Cabos Film Investor Summit was also the most practical. Execs at two Hollywood agencies – Paradigm’s Nick LoPiccolo and United Talent Agency’s Bec Smith – four sales agents – Voltage Pictures; Nicolas Chartier, FilmNation’s Karen Lunder, Alex Walton at Bloom and Sierra-Affinity’s Jonathan Kier – debated how a relatively unknown director, or their producer, can grab their attention, and persuade them to take a chance on them. The repartee was sometimes jocular. That said, the panelists were talking about a subject very dear to them. Of LoPiccolo’s 63 clients, 39 are from international, he said. As the panel’s moderator, AG Capital’s Laura Walker, observed, the number of stars which sales agents can sell overseas markets on, is finite. And the task of accessing them has grown. The challenge of breaking through is not just one these days for the talent itself. Selling relatively unknown talent to the U.S. domestic or international markets has become one of the lifebloods of the independent sector. Here are ten tips aired in a lively session:

1.THE SCREENPLAY AND DIRECTOR’S VISION

If you’re unknown, it will come down to your screenplay. “It comes down to the director and the script. If the script is there and you believe in it and the director’s vision for it, that’s all you need,” said Kier. He added: “I think you have to assume that almost always you won’t have cast for those smaller films. It has to be the script.” Lunder, FilmNation EVP, production, concurred, citing “Room.” “What we drill down on is the script. The script and the filmmakers. It’s about storytelling and that is where you begin. Lenny had made films nothing like ‘Room.’ Brie Larson had been in ‘Short Term 12.’ and was a buzzy actor in Hollywood but no where else. It was only because it was such wonderful execution that people started to notice.”

2. FOR GOD’S SAKE, BE BRIEF IF YOU’RE EMAILING AN AGENT

When pitching an agent, Chartier instanced a best practice email. “Just say: ‘Dear Nicolas, I’m a filmmaker. This is my trailer and the link to my movie.’ Don’t tell me the movie is great and you’ll want to see it.”

3. GET YOUR FOREIGN LANGUAGE OVIE TO A BANKABLE ACTOR

Nathalie Portman was attracted to “Jackie” after seeing Larrain’s “The Club,” a searing putdown of the Catholic Church, yes, but a movie whose half-dozen lead characters are portrayed with a compelling psychological complexity. When signing foreign directors, LoPiccolo observed: “For agents, you need to look for filmmakers that have a voice, a smart take on material, that can execute first in their own language and then can translate to the point that you can show a movie in a foreign language to an actor who has some bankability and they are gonna say: ‘I need to work on this film,’ – which is the director’s next title. That remark brought general agreement at the Winston Baker organised Summit.

4. BE ORIGINAL

It’s a necessity these days, not a virtue. A director’s vision needs to be “singular, interesting, and unique” so that it will “stand stand out in a marketplace flooded with a lot of ordinary or mediocre films,” said Smith, a literary agent at UTA.

5. MAKE A SHORT

“When we developed ‘Animal Kingdom,’  people said: ‘There are so many crime dramas already and what’s special about this one?’ Smith remembered. “Even though David Michod is smart and articulate, it wasn’t landing. In the end, the best selling tool he came up with was to make a short. It was not a piece of the film, it wasn’t a scene, it was a standalone short film that had characters and a similar world and look and feel. That short was when people said: ‘Oh, I get it.’”

6.ADAPT A PROPERTY WHICH IS ALREADY OUT THERE

Said Bloom’s Walton: “The marketplace is big and tastes vary, so choosing ideas strong enough to have the ability to translate is crucial. Basing your film on an established IP gives you a bit more stability.”

7. ATTRACT TALENT THAT ENDORSES YOUR VISION

“It can help to have producers who have a strong established track record attached to your film. It’s a sign to the marketplace you are an exciting filmmaker,” said UTA’s Smith. She added: “Obviously attaching actors that are meaningful and well known is great, but even attracting a high-end director of photography or production designer or editor can indicate that this is a filmmaker who needs to be taken seriously.

8. USE FESTIVALS

“All the people on this panel don’t have weeks and weeks to go to festivals and they really go to Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, Berlin, and that’s where you get feedback from people like this,” said Lunder. That said –  and it’s a sea change in Hollywood which impresses international filmmaking communities – it’s extraordinary how connected some of Hollywood’s talent agents are becoming internationally. And their ability of some of them to keep a vast range of events on their radar. Paradigm signed up Isaac Ezban, the singular Mexican sci-fi director, off Los Cabos. He is now directing “Mr Robot’s” Martin Wallstrom and “Vice Principals’” Georgia King in “Parallel.”

9. WHAT NOT TO DO?

Choose the wrong American movie, said Chartier. “If your first movie in America is a $60 million-$70 million dollar movie that is bad, you go back to France.”

10. GET SOME FRIENDS

Many passed on “Dallas Buyers Club.” Chartier financed it, but he didn’t want to take credit for it, he said.  “I passed three times. I did it for a friend, producer Cassien Elwes who called me and asked me for help, not for the material. When I was a janitor, he got me my first job as a writer. 20 years later, I gave him $3 million. But it wasn’t because of the material. I’m not that smart. Friends: That’s a great way to make films,” Chartier concluded, maybe only half-joking.

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