Lana Link (MPI): Tanner, thank you for answering our questions today! Can you talk about your role at Millennium and the films you make there?
TM: I work as a Development Executive, which is a fancy way of saying I find and develop different scripts/projects for the company. We have a full service production studio in Bulgaria, and we operate under a foreign pre-sales model. Basically that means we pre-sell our films to the different territories around the world before we actually make the movie. This provides us very little risk, since the film is already paid for before we start shooting. But creatively, it limits the type of projects we can do. Our buyers are mostly interested in high-concept action/thrillers with A-List cast. So that’s what we try to give them. We are the only independent studio in the world with six major franchises: The Expendables, Rambo, Olympus Has Fallen, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, The Mechanic, and most recently the new Hellboy reboot.
MPI: For those who are just starting out in the industry, can you speak to what “development” executives do? What skills do you need?
TM: We find scripts from anywhere we can—agents, managers, producers, friends, waiters, valets, etc. And we read a LOT. Once we find something we like, we try to option the project and put it together. Usually this involves a few rounds of notes with the writer, then sending the script out to directors. After director pitches, we hire a director, incorporate their script notes, and start making offers to cast. When we get a financeable actor on board, the sales guys take the film to the markets and start selling. This is usually where my work stops. But once the film is in post-production, we will review the cuts and give notes on how to improve it.
Skills you need: you must love reading, obviously. And you need to have a good sense of story/structure. But like anything else, it’s all about practice. If you have the patience to sit and read all day, then eventually you start to notice patterns in scripts and learn what works and what doesn’t.
MPI: What should writers keep in mind when they’re trying to get producers’ attention? Are there common errors you see screenwriters repeat, either in their work during the coverage process or in their pitches?
TM: Don’t be afraid to follow up. I get so many submissions that a lot of times scripts can get buried in my inbox. If you send me something and then disappear off the face of the earth, I’ll probably never read it. But if you’re polite and check in occasionally with a reminder, eventually I will get to it.
Common errors: don’t save your best pages for the end of the script. Make sure your first 10 to 25 pages are your strongest, and that they hook the reader somehow. Give me a reason to keep turning the page. If you tell me “Just wait until the twist at the end!” I’ll probably never make it that far.
As far as pitches go, try to relax. Don’t go too fast. Don’t read directly from a paper (notes are ok). Be funny. Even if you’re pitching a Holocaust drama where everybody dies at the end, a bit of humor can go a long way toward easing tension in the room and ingratiating yourself as someone we want to work with. Be open to ideas and collaborative, but don’t be afraid to defend yourself if you see things a different way.