On the Road to Deciding the JumpStart Competition Winner with Raquelle David, Literary Manager & Producer @ Lit Entertainment Group

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Meet the JumpStart Judges

This interview was conducted on Sunday, November 12th, 2023 between Roadmap Writers' Director of Brand Management Tristan J Shuler and Literary Manager at Lit Entertainment Group Raquelle David.

So tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

I'm a literary manager and producer at Lit Entertainment Group, Adam Kolbrenner's Company, and we produce movies and television series. We also manage a ton of phenomenal writers in the business across both film and TV. I started my career in Australia. I'm Australian, obviously, I can't hide the accent. I was producing in film and TV in Australia and in Canada for over a decade. And I moved over to Los Angeles about seven years ago now to manage. I love working with writers. My joy is finding that really cool idea that might be a spark of creativity and then really, you know, taking that kernel of an idea and seeing it turned into a screenplay and ultimately getting made and produced. It's such a joy to work with creatives. I love the business because we are that intermediary between the art and the commerce, and it's really kind of finding that sweet spot. I would say most of our clients are are multi hyphenates. We are very creative driven. We love original ideas, and whilst the market right now is like super saturated with a lot going on, it's really about finding those gems.

When it comes to these competition scripts sliding across your desk, how do you know that you're into a script, whether it be the style or voice or characters? What are the things that make you go "I actually want more of this"?

I think that's such a personal question, you know, so I don't think there's a blanket kind of answer across the board, but I do think it comes down to a few key things: First, you want a really cool concept. You wanna be able to, in a very judicious way in your log line, really put together why this is so different, why this is so special, why this is so unique, what about it have we not seen before? What's that way in that we haven't actually experienced? And then it comes down to character. For me, I can tell in two pages, literally two pages if I'm gonna continue wanting to read this writer's work. Your first few pages of your script are the most important. Having a great command of not only writing, but character - really knowing your character inside out. Being very clear on what your inciting incident is and making sure that lands in a really powerful way. It's not just about what the idea is or what the concept is, it's really about your POV. Who is this character that we're gonna fall in love with? And I thin great writers spend time doing the kind of deep digging on who this character is. And I think that all comes across in the writing. Still, I don't think there's any kind of magic formula as to what I particularly am looking for.

Those opening couple pages are really land that inciting incident and land the character in a powerful way that makes us want to read more. It's like you make or break it in those first opening pages.

100% yeah, I agree. I think sometimes when we talk to writers, it's like, "oh, well, this cool thing's happening in like, you know, like episode three of the, of the season," and it's like, no, no, no, no, no! Put it in the pilot! Don't hide anything, because whether it's TV series or feature, you want those first 10 to 15 pages to be phenomenal. Front load as much as you can. And I think if you're working in the high concept space as well, it's really important that you hook the reader in that way.

How important are the supplemental materials like the bio and logline? Are those things that you're reading and really digesting and investigating as part of pushing writers forward to the finals? Or is it all about the script for you?

I mean, I look. I think a logline is one of the toughest things to write. They're super formulaic, yes, but you need to write a really snappy log line. And sometimes it takes a few goes. And I think when a writer struggles to write a really snappy log line, it's usually because they don't fully grasp what it is they're wanting to sell. This is a market. We are in a business. So having an incredible logline is super important. And being able to craft a logline that is going to get a reader's attention is paramount. But no, I think ultimately it is the writing [that pushes a writer forward in this competition.] And so the supplementary materials, I mean yeah, you wanna hook someone in with a bit of a taste test, but ultimately it's going to be the script.

What are some common pitfalls you find in competition scripts that come across your desk? How would you recommend avoiding some of these common mistakes?

I'm really kind of careful in answering that question because I don't know as an artist (and writers are all artists), whether you can make a mistake. I don't think there's a right or wrong way for anything, whether you are following story structure and doing all the homework essentially on story. I think rather than answer the question with what mistakes writers are making, I would say more so focusing on what sets this apart from other things we've seen. And so it's really important that the writer is very well versed in what's on television, what features are getting made, and knowing what we've seen on screen before...

I would also just say keep writing. Like, just don't stop writing, don't stop. Don't just write a few drafts and go. "I think it's there, but it's not quite there yet." Keep working on it. And I think if anything, I would say quite a few screenplays are probably a little bit underdeveloped.

What does that mean and look like? How do you know if a script is a little bit more underdeveloped?

I think every writer is different, with their own process. Some might write a handful of drafts, some might write 20 drafts. It just depends. But I think it's coming back to that core question of command of character and really looking at every beat of your story and ensuring that it is well integrated into the character's journey, and that there's no superfluous beats or moments that you don't really need. Is it grounded in what this story is? Is there purpose for every moment? 

How do we as writers balance writing something that we're passionate about versus writing something that will sell?

That's a really poignant question in the current climate. I would always say to a writer: write what you're passionate about. There's a reason why you're passionate as an artist. You've gotta follow the passion because that comes across on the page. I would really encourage the writer not let go of their passion to follow something that's a trend. I mean, what's the point of that? It's like you're just copying, you know, Picasso, and that just becomes boring. So I think it's staying really true to what you're passionate about, but really being cognizant of how the industry is working. That's really the point of the relationship between a writer and a manager. It's not just abandoning what you're passionate about and serving the industry as a writer. I think if you're writing something on spec, you have to be passionate about it, but it is about finding your way in that is going to be something that the marketplace is gonna respond to. And look, it might, it might also be a matter of finding the story in other ways. Like, it doesn't necessarily have to be a pilot or a feature screenplay. It could be a short story, you know, it could be a novel, it could be a comic book, it could graphic novel, it could be podcast, it could be, you know, it could be a book.

Understanding and knowing like, okay, maybe this isn't for screen, maybe this thing I'm passionate about could be a different medium.

But then be very mindful as a business how you are going to adapt that. That's what I'm saying, you wanna find it in another format before it gets adapted into a pilot or a feature. I think storytelling is so broad these days, and it translates in so many big ways. And I think sometimes screenwriters get so bogged down by, I have to write this as a pilot, or I have to figure this out as as a feature.

I'd love to hear a story or an experience of you reading a script that felt like "whoa, I don't relate to that, but this was a damn good script that I needed to push forward." How did they accomplish grasping you into a world you were unaware of or unconnected to?

I wish the example that I'm gonna give was a client... it's not. So I remember reading, um, I remember reading Remi Weekes' HIS HOUSE, and this is a horror film about an immigrant family who come to the UK after going through some really brutal experiences and a lot of trauma. But it's told as a haunted house movie. And so it deals with very real, very harrowing themes that these characters experienced and also moves it into the genre in a really interesting way. It's a beautiful script and a great film, but obviously, I can't say I can relate to those characters going through that experience. But what the script does so eloquently is it creates such an incredible amount of empathy for these characters. And we have to also remember that we are all human and we all experience pretty much the same emotions. We also have different life experience, but those kind of bigger, more universal themes lend themselves to us, relating to character through emotion...

You can do that across genres in different interpretations, in different worlds, even if it's a genre that you may not be as in love with,  you can still show the human experience in a really beautiful, dramatic way.

Exactly! And that's really the point of storytelling, right? For us all to experience a grand catharsis through story. And that's what we all want. We want that, whether it's comedy, whether it's horror, you know, it doesn't really matter. Character first, concept second.

How often do you feel like you love a script, but it'll never sell, and is that a part of judging these competitions? Or is it just about the loving the craft?

As a manager and producer in this business, we are looking at things that can sell. And I think that's a really important consideration. I don't think anyone should write anything that they feel is just a great script that will never sell. What's the point? I think you should always be writing things that do stand out in the marketplace. Play to your strengths as a writer. And I think you can see that on the page with anyone that you know, if we're reading a sample of a writer, we wanna get to know who the writer is. 

We're humans and we're artists, and the writer's job is to make art, not to worry about the selling. Like, your job is to be worried about the selling!

Yeah, I mean, I think the manager's job is to carefully guide the writer into finding that beautiful meeting point between art and commerce. It's really important. Sometimes it's not about an idea not being sellable. Sometimes it's just about the idea or the concept behind the idea being something that we've seen before. So we have to remember, there are a hundred thousand scripts out there, right? There are only so many producers, there are only so many buyers. And at some point, their slates become pretty full with very popular ideas. So if you are writing something that has already been done before or is already in development across a few buyers, we as the manager are gonna say, "don't write that because you're not gonna stand out."

Are competition placements and wins good information for you as a literary manager when you're pitching clients?

Of course! Yeah. Absolutely. You've gotta get your work out there. If you're a writer, get it out there. Particularly if you're starting in the business, the more competitions, the more eyeballs on your scripts. Get it out there. Don't hold onto your scripts thinking that you've gotta be careful as to who reads. No, send it out, get them read, you've gotta do that. And you've gotta also be open to criticism and feedback and critique. It's a really important part of the process. Don't take it personally. You have to fail a number of times to then succeed. And this is an industry about persistence, sometimes more than it is about talent. I'll say that.

Last question, and this is about you, maybe not as much about screenwriting, but to get a little sense of who you are... What are you passionate about other than filmmaking and screenwriting, and do you find that your outside hobbies ever come into alignment with filmmaking and screenwriting?

Oh, that's a good question. I don't have a life outside of the business! No, I love storytelling. Across multiple mediums, you know, I love to read, I love to listen to great music. It's about that kind of connectivity with us as human beings walking this weird planet. I will say, you know, quite honestly, I do love this business. It encompasses my entire life, like in my day-to-day. But having said that, I appreciate all mediums of art, including writing. I also love dogs. So my life is, like, dogs and scripts. Yeah, dogs and scripts. I'm probably gonna hate myself for saying this, but if you send me a script with a dog in it, I'm definitely gonna read it!

 

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