Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Writer Tip #17: Attaching Talent

Linda Blair
A couple of years ago, a screenwriter friend of mine called me and said he had attached Linda Blair, of The Exorcist fame, to his script. I feigned enthusiasm and resisted the urge to roll my eyes. No offense to Ms. Blair, whom I do respect, but I didn't see how my friend could benefit from attaching her to his script. He wanted to make a theatrical film, and Linda Blair hadn't starred in a theatrical film since 1990's Repossessed. She didn't have the box office appeal to help get his movie made.

Don't get me wrong.  As I said in my earlier blog, Who's In It?, I believe getting "names" for your film is one of the biggest keys to success, particularly in this difficult environment. However, not all "names" are created equal. The truth of the matter is that most actors, like everyone else, want to work. They have mortgages and car payments, just like us lesser mortals.  Most of them would be happy to appear in your film, unless they feel it will damage their reputation, if you can meet their day rate and pay their travel expenses. Attaching well-known working actors does not necessarily validate the quality of your script or your talent as a writer.

If you are looking to sell your script, rather than produce the film yourself, there is no point attaching actors to the project unless they can take it to the next level. If you are invited to hand your script to Jennifer Lawrence or Dwayne Johnson or Melissa McCarthy or Denzel Washington, do not hesitate for a second. Go for it. If they are willing to champion it, chances are you have a movie. That said, there's no point attaching Gary Busey or Gunnar Hansen at the spec stage if you envision your film as a summer theatrical release.

Another screenwriter I know recently attached a reality star, well-known in faith-based circles, to her script. She thought it was a real coup because her script got some reads afterwards. But she got no offers at the level she desired. I asked her if she thought the response would have been different if she had attached Jennifer Garner instead. The answer was obvious. However, she will never get Jennifer Garner. That role has already been taken in the eyes of the production companies to which she submitted the script.

Here's the truth. If your script is good, the agents and producers who read it will imagine it with the biggest names in the business in the lead roles. Additionally, they have greater access to those actors than you do. And they can get them, too. Conversely, when you send them a query letter about your script with the exciting news that you've already attached Linda Blair for the lead role, they know it is a straight to streaming project at best. They will not be interested in reading your script because they will not see how Linda Blair can put money in their pockets.

Don't put limitations on your script!

There's another reason not to do it. Over the course of my career, I have worked with a number of wonderful actors and actresses. I look forward to working with them again. I can certainly see some of them playing characters in my current work. However, I would never think of calling and attaching them to the scripts. Why? Because, ultimately, the people who bring the financing make the casting decisions. How am I going to look when I promise someone a role and the production company picks someone else instead? I do not want to be that guy. You shouldn't either.

If you love Linda Blair, and who doesn't, you can always offer her for a nice supporting role after the producers snag Scarlett Johansson for the lead.

(Once again, when you're producing the film yourself it is a different matter entirely. Now, I am just talking to my fellow writers.)

Other Tips:

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

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