Screenwriter David Marlett
David Marlett, a Texas based author and attorney, recently sold two unpublished novels to Hollywood. "Fortunate Son" to Davis Entertainment and "Legion of Honour" to Green/Epstein Productions.
SSSD: Spec Screenplay Sales Directory
MARLETT: David Marlett
SSSD: What are your two books about and how did you come about to write them?
MARLETT: Fortunate Son is based on the true story of a young man in the early 1700's who, in an effort to reclaim his heritage and name, brings about the largest and most expensive civil trial in British history. I came across the trial transcript over ten years ago, but didn't begin writing the novel until about 2 years ago. The manuscript is in final edits now before publication hopefully next fall. Legion of Honour is also based on a true story, and it tells the fascinating tale of Napoleon's last years, and his last love--a young lady on the Island of Saint Helena. In telling this romantic story, Legion of Honour also unveils the adventure that took place in attempting to rescue Napoleon from the island. It is a sweeping historical--- very enjoyable to bring to life. I have known of the story, or bits and pieces of it for a long time, and only began to write it last year. It, like Fortunate Son, is a broad, expansive drama which will work well as a feature or a mini-series.
SSSD: You approached Hollywood with unpublished material. Did you try and get published first?
MARLETT: Yes, I did. I tried to get Fortunate Son to an agent first, and was successful. The problem was that it wasn't a very good agent. In fact she said "this will never make it as a movie." So, I fired her, and struck out on my own. I had been watching the industry for a while, and had seen that quite a few novels were getting picked up for film before publication. So, I jumped in, both feet first, and it paid off. At least so far. It drew a lot of attention, and I've managed, so far, to hang on for the ride.
SSSD: How did you approach the agent?
MARLETT: I sent out 92 queries and got back 85 rejection letters. I know what it feels like, trust me. In fact, two of those rejection letters were from the very agency (NY and LA offices) that now represents me. Its a crazy industry.
SSSD: Tell us about the query letter you sent. What did it contain and how long was it?
MARLETT: One page---although I think it was 10pt to get it all on! It had the usual, a tag opening line, a brief overview of the story, some about me, and some about why I thought their agency was right for the material and for me as a writer.
SSSD: How did you go about targeting Hollywood buyers?
MARLETT: Reading, studying, listening. I used the Hollywood Creative Directory primarily. And then sent single page letters to a few, basically saying who I was and what I had to offer. By the way, I also have another novel in the works, called Red Chip 7, which was originally titled "Manslaughter." It drew a lot of attention as well, and continues to do so.
SSSD: Can you elaborate about marketing to Hollywood? How did you pick the companies from the Hollywood Creative Directory? Did the companies want the material sent through an agent or an attorney? Or the fact that you're an attorney was good enough..
MARLETT: I looked primarily at films of the same genre, and studied who produced them. I then researched those producers and targeted them. That usually led me to others, if I got responses. And so, eventually, I honed in on those most interested. It did and does take a lot of work, a lot of phone calls, a lot of tenacity. But most, I think you just have to be smart about it, respective of the receptionists, etc. and primarily, have a well-crafted treatment of a good story. Yes, several wanted it to come through an agent or attorney, and for those I usually persisted on the basis that I represented myself. They would often fax over the disclaimer documents for me to sign. I always sent my cover letters and query letters on my law firm letterhead, and made sure the envelopes and manuscript boxes had the same clearly marked on the outside.
SSSD: What was the initial response?
MARLETT: Most were interested in Red Chip 7 (manslaughter) and a few wanted to see more on Fortunate Son. For those, I responded aggressively and quickly.
SSSD: Were you asked to provide a synopsis of the books first?
MARLETT: Yes, I offered that up front. I always have a treatment of any book I am offering ready and waiting in the wings. At the first sign of interest, I fax or email it off. (And many times I had a bottle of wine delivered to whoever was requesting it.)
SSSD: Tell us about the treatments that went along with your books. How long were they and what did they describe?
MARLETT: My treatments are usually about 12 to 15 pages, with the first page an overview of the story in (hopefully) catchy prose. The remaining is an act by act breakdown of the plot, paragraph style, with lots of dialogue sprinkled in for dramatic effect. Out there, it is definitely the treatments that do the selling---I've learned that for sure.
SSSD: What happened after your first sale? Did agents start contacting you?
MARLETT: Yes. By the truck-load.
SSSD: How did you decide to go with William Morris?
MARLETT: It came down between a tag team of ICM in LA (for film) and one of the big NY boys (for publishing), or William Morris on both coasts. William Morris simply convinced me that they could get my work to the market quicker and more successfully than the others. I wouldn't want to openly publish any more details than that, if you understand.
SSSD: Both books are period pieces, not usually big blockbusters at the box office.
MARLETT: Yes. I have had a tremendous obstacle in that regard. But, look at what usually brings in the lion's share of Oscars. Almost always they are historicals. Audiences love well done sweeping epic historicals. But, I understand, they are usually expensive to shoot and the general response by producers is to shy away from them. But, frankly, I didn't care. I had two good stories and I knew it. Also, as I was working on Red Chip 7, a contemporary thriller, it was useful to have that as a carrot to get their attention.
SSSD: What do you think the production companies were attracted to about your books?
MARLETT: The story---that is always the thing, whether it is historical or contemporary. Few producers ever read the manuscript itself, so the treatment does the selling.
SSSD: Did you ever think about the commercial potential of the books as movies when you were writing them?
MARLETT: Oh, of course it crosses your mind, but it wasn't a driving force. In fact, I suppose if that was a major motivating factor, I would have started with Red Chip 7 and not gone historical.
SSSD: Did you attach yourself as screenwriter for either book? If so, how is that working out?
MARLETT: Yes, and no. For Fortunate Son I simply made the request, but I didn't want to demand it, fearing that might impede the sale. But for Legion of Honour I am attached as a co-producer and screenwriter. For all my future work, I plan to be at least a co-producer, and may tackle the screenplays. I don't enjoy the writing environment of screenplays all that much--- a bit too much "writing by committee," but I do want to stay involved in the story.
SSSD: Please tell us how you went about researching your material.
MARLETT:Tons of reading. Lots of hours at libraries and on the Internet. I have a personal library of about 10,000 books and a great number are non-fiction and relate to the subjects I am currently writing about. Speaking of the Internet, I have a web site, at www.marlett.com which tells a little more about me. It needs to be updated, but is fairly accurate.
SSSD: What are you working on now?
MARLETT: Finalizing Fortunate Son for the publisher; Legion of Honour's screenplay; and writing Red Chip 7. Most of my time is spent writing Red Chip 7. My agents and manager are "standing on one foot and then the other," waiting for me to finish it! Next will probably be a dark little story set in the backwaters of the Kennedy killings. We'll see.
Get your script read and evaluated by the same folks who read for the agencies
and studios. Discover what's right and wrong with your script and how to improve it.