It's been about six months since my friend Matt Bolish was signed as a client to Resolution after his spec ALICE OF OZ got some traction on the Black List website. The script is set years after the first visit over the rainbow, as a now-adult Dorothy Gale is pulled back to Oz to help her friends fight an invasion from another world - Wonderland.
Considering Matt just recently visited L.A. to do the typical "new writer" tour of meeting producers and development executives, this seemed like a good time to check in with him and discuss his experience with the Black List and what it's like to be the new writer taking meetings all over town.
So how did you come up with the idea for ALICE OF OZ?
Well, a lot of people have made comparisons of the two stories. Both Dorothy and Alice are young girls, sucked into fantasy worlds that are populated by magic and incredible creatures, both are on a quest to get home. But there are some striking differences. Dorothy arrives, drops a house on a witch, and is immediately honored as a hero. Along the way to the Emerald City she meets this amazing cast of characters that treats her like an adult, who look for her for guidance – every ten year old’s dream!
Then there’s Alice; she’s bored and desperate for some adventure, so she follows the Rabbit down his hole. While it’s all fun and games at first, she’s frequently on the defensive. The people of Wonderland call her stupid and foolish, even a monster, they constantly make and remake the rules. Alice’s quest is as more about escaping Wonderland then getting back to a worried family waiting in a land far, far away.
It was fun to consider how those different experiences would have made two VERY different women and how those two women would have in turn made two starkly different worlds.
What led you to put ALICE OF OZ up on the Black List website?
I’d been aware of THE Black List for years; I remember getting a hold of it back in the day and treating it like a “to-do” list; here were dozens of scripts that I had to get my hands on to read, study, and pick apart. Best way to spend a weekend…
Fast forward a few years and a friend and fellow writer tipped me off to the new venture, blacklist.com. We were pretty skeptical at first; there are lots of services out there that are happy to take you money for notes, promising connections or introductions to industry insiders if your work passes muster. But then I dug into it and realized that this was more then just a script reading service; it was a community. Not in the sense of a facebook or instagram, but a dynamic and exciting place for THE WORK to live and breathe. I figured that it was worthwhile to give it a shot and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
One of the most daunting things a writer can do is pass their work to someone else; it can be terrifying. But in order to have a life beyond your close circle of friends you have to get your work out into the world. Blacklist.com allowed me to solicit opinions from people in the business who WANTED to be there, who were looking for stories. No long email “putting it in context,” no coffee meeting where you hang onto the script like grim death, unsure if you really should slide it over the table to your girlfriend, roommate, or that guy from down the hall.
Having a place like blacklist.com allows writers to get out of their comfort zone and get reasoned, considered feedback while at the same time providing executives, representatives, and producers tools to find stories that they are interested in – seems like a win/win.
When did you start getting reactions? What was that like?
I knew from the moment I started hosting on the site that I was going to pay for a read. It seemed like the best way to take advantage of what the system had to offer and it also forced me to put myself out there. One of the best components of the site is the “do no harm” rule – no one would see the pro-review if I didn’t want them to. If it went bad, well, I’d go back to the drawing board. If it went well, making those notes and scores public would likely drive interest in the script. I got lucky and landed some very solid numbers and notes.
But make no mistake, it took a little bit of time for all of that to come together. So if I was asked to give some advice to people who are exploring site as an option I’d lead with “be patient.” Even after I made the review public it took some time for ALICE to get traction but when it did things started to happen pretty quickly.
The first messages I got were a mix bag of “pats on the back” and requests for more material ("That’s great…what else do you have?"). I heard from producers, directors, agents, managers, creative executives and it was a little overwhelming at first. I mean, when you are plugging away at a script you get the impression that it’s a one way street. An endless cycle of sending out specs and going after people to see if they had a chance to read them. But this was the other way, people were drawn to the work for one reason or another, took a look at it, and wanted to touch base. I’ll be honest, I was nervous…but then it got to be fun.
As a direct result of those conversations I signed with Resolution and we’ve been working together for six months now.
Since you were courted by so many people, what advice would you give to other writers who have to decide whether or not to take someone on as their rep?
Number one, talk to everyone, no matter how big or small or whatever. I had to learn very quickly that while writing may be a solitary pursuit – you, a computer, and a pot of coffee – finding the right person or people to work with you to develop a career is a team sport. You need to ask questions, you need to get a sense of the sorts of folks they work with, the stories they like or like to tell, you need to get a sense of how hands off or hands on a possible rep might be.
Number two, meet them. Phone calls are key, skype calls are cool, but I personally don’t think you get the measure of a person (nor they of you) unless you are sitting across from them. This might be easier said then done but this is a person who you hope to have a long professional relationship with…you should be able to pick them out of a line up. I think that also says something about a possible rep as well – they should want the same thing.
Since you don't live in LA, has that complicated capitalizing on the attention your spec has gotten?
Yeah, I currently live in New York which made things like sitting down with possible representatives a little challenging. I was lucky in that work, friends, and family on the west coast make trips back to LA a necessity. I’ve found that it’s important to coordinate trips back west for meetings – a week of hitting the road, dropping in, saying “hi,” and meeting as many people as possible. It’s so much better if you can actually be in the same room at least for those initial meetings. By virtue of geography I’ve got to rely on phone calls and emails for following up…but I’m planning another trip very soon!
Are you comfortable going into these general meetings? Any advice for other writers who have yet to experience that?
Yeah, I tend to feel pretty good about going into a meeting. When it comes down to it, you are there because someone saw something they liked in your work and wanted to meet you. It’s easy to confuse them with job interviews but (at least in my experience) it’s best to go in ready for a conversation, not a review of credentials. It’s easy to say trite things like “relax, take it easy,” but I really do think that’s key.
The way I prep for a meeting is making sure I know about who I’m meeting with – what does this person like, what does this company produce, what are they working on – that sort of stuff. Another thing that might be easy to take for granted is your own work…be prepared to talk about your script or scripts, and if it makes sense at the meeting be ready to talk about what you are doing right now. For me, this goes a long way towards making me feel comfortable in the room.
I’ve had the chance to be on the other side of the table (albeit in a different context), and have people pitch me their ideas, stories, or projects. I found the ones that I was most interested in were ones where I was able to ask questions, engaging with the creator and the through them, the work. That means making sure that your meeting doesn’t turn into a monologue. Make sure you give the person you’re sitting down with the time to respond, to ask questions, to tell a few of their own stories…and before you know it you’ve filled an hour or so.
You mentioned earlier that you blocked off a week to pop into town for meetings. Is that a reasonable way to work?
I think that it makes sense as a way to get started. Thanks to the web and things like Face Time and Skype it’s no longer an unbreakable rule that a writer must live in LA county to crack inside. But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a pull towards the west coast. I’m biased though, I love LA…
So what's next?
I’m trying to wrap up my next spec script now while at the same time playing with ideas for story I’ll work on after.