The following is an interview with Jim Wedaa, who is the Executive Vice President at The Jacobson Company. As a producer, Jim has been responsible for the sale of more than a dozen spec scripts.
SSSD: Spec Screenplay Sales Directory
WEDAA: Jim Wedaa
SSSD: What kind of log line do you need to sell a spec?
WEDAA: You need an idea that is easy to understand, easy to pitch, incredibly original, and yet somehow brilliantly familiar. The specs sell because people are looking for new movies and they're looking for good fresh new ideas. The easier the idea is to understand, ...the easier it is to sell a project. ...If you're the best screenwriter in the world you don't need the highest concept. But if you're starting out, and you're still learning your craft, having an incredibly original idea is still very helpful.
SSSD: Speaking of fresh and original ideas, you sold one from a trio of new writers called the Black Box. Can you tell us how that originated?
WEDAA: I had read a spec script of theirs which I thought was really well written. So I took a general meeting with them and I said, "Well what do you guys want to do next?" and they had no firm idea, just a whole bunch of one- line ideas. And they ran through the first ones which I didn't like, they ran through the second one, which I didn't like, and then they said they were thinking about doing a movie about what happens when a UFO crashes and somebody finds a UFO's version of an airplane's black box. Immediately this grabbed my heart and I said, "You know that's a million dollar idea. That's the neatest idea I've ever heard for a movie, and we should do this together." And so we decided to work on the project together with me as the producer. We developed a spec screenplay which we worked on for about a year. And when we came to sell it, having this really high concept idea was really quite helpful. The logline was general enough to let you know what the movie was but unspecific enough where people hearing the logline could imagine all the various ways that it could be executed and so were more inclined to like it because they saw the potential themselves.
SSSD:At that stage did you talk to anybody else about it?
WEDAA: I pitched it around a little bit to get feedback as we were developing it. But basically it was just me and writers working on the script. They didn't have an agent, so I hooked them up with two good friends of mine, Rob Carlson and Alan Gasmer [William Morris agents who have sold the greatest number of spec scripts] and said, "I have this script, I think it's great, I think the idea's a million dollar idea. And I think we should go and sell this for a lot of money and go make a movie." So I sent them the script on a Friday afternoon, and they called me at home on Saturday morning saying, "This is great, we want to sign these guys." So I got the writers in there to meet them on Monday and they signed up on Tuesday and then we went and sold the script about a month later for a million two. Eight hundred against a million two.
SSSD: Tell us in greater detail how you decided to whom you should send the script.
WEDAA: I made a list of which buyers who were Jim Wedaa friendly, people at the various companies who were allies of mine. And there was a lot of heat on this as a spec script because it's a strong idea. I took the spec out on a Monday morning, which everybody hated because they were in their staff meeting. And Disney read it immediately and made an offer by noon and we closed the deal up right after lunch.
SSSD: Wonderful. What stage in development is it now?
WEDAA: We're packaging it with directors.
SSSD: Now you work with Tom Jacobson. Is it a first look deal with Disney?
WEDAA: Exclusive deal.
SSSD: Does Disney prefer to hear pitches or do they want spec scripts?
WEDAA: I think both sell all the time. I couldn't say that there's a preference for either one.
SSSD: Are they looking for anything in particular at Disney?
WEDAA: I wouldn't speak for them, but I know that we're looking for event movies and comedies.
SSSD: What about romantic comedies in particular?
WEDAA: Romantic comedies are tough because it's hard to sell a romantic comedy as a pitch unless somebody's a really established writer. They're best read, and bought as a spec.
SSSD: Should writers be thinking about budget when they're writing a screenplay?
WEDAA: No, I mean I think that's something for a producer to do. I mean, if you're going to write an eighty million dollar movie, you're going to write an eighty million dollar movie. If you're writing an event movie, great, don't worry about the budget. It's going to be expensive no matter what. You know it's not the writers job; that's the producers job and the studio's job to tell you what the project should be. Write the movie. You want to write as well as you can, and, if down the road somebody says, "I love this idea, but not for fifty million dollars, we have to write it for a forty million dollar budget," well then, you re-write for a forty million dollar budget, don't constrain yourself creatively."
SSSD: How many pages do you give a screenplay before you decide if you like it?
WEDAA: If I hate sixty pages, I will stop, but I always give it a chance. I'm not one of those five, ten page guys. I mean you can tell if a script is bad, but always I want to give everybody a chance.
SSSD: So at this stage of the game, though, you're basically only working with top screenwriters?
WEDAA: No, I'm working with everybody. I'm working with people who've sold their first script, and I'm working with people who have had some movies made. It's all about the right writer for the right project.
SSSD: There's been a lot of spec screenplays purchased over the last few years.
WEDAA: Oh, yeah, tons.
SSSD: And most of them have not been made. They're in development hell somewhere. Why do you think that's the case?
WEDAA: There are few movies that get made. I don't know what the numbers are today, but let's say one out of twenty scripts get made. One out of twenty specs get made. There's no real differentiation in my mind between assignments and specs. Scripts are created by anybody, a creative team, even if it includes a director. You know they're sold speculatively or set up speculatively and I think most projects that are set up are not generated by the studio, they're generated by somebody selling them a project. Most scripts don't get made into movies, and being a spec doesn't help or hurt.
...So many specs are written by younger writers who don't know how to rewrite. And so they can't do a good job of bringing the project home where it needs to be. Once they get rewritten by somebody else, that's always a good thing for the project because the new writer is more professional, or more established, or more talented.
SSSD: So it's more likely to get made?
WEDAA: I would say yes. If a spec by a new writer cannot be brought home, then bringing another writer on gives it a better shot as opposed to going into turnaround. So it's better to be rewritten than to be thrown away.
SSSD: But the original writer will get the first shot at doing the rewrite?
SSSD: What suggestion do you have for a budding screenwriter out there living outside of Los Angeles. What should they be doing besides writing a lot?
WEDAA: If they're living [out of state] they've got to move to LA. I always tell this story of this one writer. An agent sent me a script saying, "This script needs a lot of work, but I think there's something here, and if you work with him you could get a good spec out of it. So I read the script and called the agent and said, "This is really a great script and I'd love to talk to the writer and see if he's interested in working on it together." And he said, "Oh great, hold on, let me put you on the phone with him." So he connects me to this writer and we talk, and we have this great creative conversation about what the project should be, and how I can kind of help him, and what I think we can do together. And so we talk, and talk, and talk and I end up saying, "Okay great, why don't you come in Wednesday and we'll have a meeting." And he's like, "Well 'I live in Texas." I'm like, "What do you mean you live in Texas?" "I live in Texas. My agent put you through to me in Texas." I'm like, "You're kidding. I don't like to work with people on the phone." I said, "You've got to come in. First off we'll do a conference call on Wednesday. But just for the record, if you want to be a screenwriter in Hollywood you got to move to LA. This is where the business is and you know the business is about relationships and you can't have relationships if you're not here." And he said, "Okay," and we said goodbye, and Wednesday at ten comes along and my assistant walks in and says, "This writer's here to see you." And I said, "This guy moved to LA over the weekend because I told him to?". And he said to me that we need to get to work because, he needs to sell the script within the next four weeks or he's going to run out of money. So we got to work and ended up selling the script. It went into turnaround; we ended up selling it again, and then we worked on the second project and we just sold it to Warner Bros.
So it was a smart move for him to come here. My advice is move to LA, and get an agent. You can't work if you don't have an agent.
SSSD: If you have a good enough screenplay you'll get an agent.
WEDAA: I tell people that I'm sorry you're not getting an agent, but there might be a reason for that.
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