Big Break Behind the Scenes: Judge, Manager and Producer Lee Stobby
In under 10 years in Hollywood, Lee Stobby already has his own management and production company—Lee Stobby Entertainment—his name on a slate of films, and clients working everywhere.
Perhaps his most well-known success is Bubbles, his client Isaac Adamson’s script about Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee. Bubbles topped the Black List and is now at Netflix, with Stobby executive producing.
He produced Wildling, directed and co-written by client Fritz Bohm and starring Bel Powley, Liv Tyler, and Brad Dourif. Stobby’s also working with Elijah Wood’s company SpectreVision on Lucas Amann’s fantastical Popsicle.
Other clients include Rodney Ascher (who directed documentaries The Nightmare and Room 237), Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy (director of The Tribe), and Karen Trefry (staffed on Stranger Things).
Stobby began with the intent to produce and transitioned to management as he realized that was where his calling lay. Still, to his mind, everything he does is producing. “In any given year, maybe I go out with 10 things,” he explains. “And of those 10 things, I’m really going to focus, not just sell those scripts, but get those projects made.”
FD: What do you like about being a manager?
LS: I’m really at the front lines of everything. There’s nothing that I’m not involved in in a client’s career … from the smallest thing to the biggest thing. I love being there.
I will do drafts and drafts. If I love a project, I don’t have any problem giving notes and notes and notes because I want to make sure that it’s the best thing possible.
FD: What are your favorite types of genres or projects to work in?
LS: I don’t care about anything being safe or commercial. When I say commercial, I mean things that are intentionally designed to be unprovocative.
I’ll do action. I’ll do genre. I’ll do comedy. I’ll do all these things. But I’m not going to do anything that doesn’t stand out.
FD: What do you look for in a potential client?
LS: I want people that are really trying to push the boundaries and do things that are going to stand out and be unique and are not scared of taking chances.
If you’re a director that does something very specific, to me, that’s way easier to manage and get jobs for because they do something very specific. They’re easier to pitch because there’s no one else.
How that breaks down in terms of genre or anything else is a free ball. It’s all over the map. Television, features, directors—I want people that stand out and aren’t doing the safe thing.
Network people want interesting people. They don’t want the person who’s been giving the same things they’ve been giving them over and over again. They have enough of those already.
FD: How do you find clients?
LS: I really spend an insane amount of time filtering through a tremendous amount of material. I’m looking for very, very high-end writers doing something that’s an interesting concept, or an interesting way in it, and their voice is so insanely powerful that it just stands out.
I’ll do contests. It’s referrals from friends. It’s the Black List. I found Isaac on the Black List website. It’s judging contests, judging stuff like Final Draft.
FD: You even put out Twitter calls for scripts periodically.
LS: Because I’m looking for such a specific, narrow band of stuff, I never feel like I have enough material. I always feel like I need more scripts. All the time.
FD: Do you ever engage with people who send unsolicited queries?
LS: Yes. I have a movie [Tom Castillo’s Dick Move] shooting this summer that I got financing. I got some producers on, and they’re going to shoot in the summer. That was a query letter that I got.
I’m totally open to everything … everyone in Hollywood should be an equal opportunist, and it doesn’t matter what level you’re at. If you have an amazing idea and people crack it open and you can really write, then people will read it.
FD: What makes you stop reading a script?
LS: I can pass on a script sometimes just by looking at how they formatted stuff on the page … I know what writing on a page looks like that I find compelling and interesting.
The number-one reason I stop reading something is because most writers don’t understand how pros work and aren’t able to actually write words in a compelling way in an order that’s interesting. You don’t have to read very much to know if that person is good or bad at being able to put words on a page in a compelling way.
I’m not going to be able to teach someone to write compellingly. That’s something that you have to figure out before you’re approaching any kind of rep.
Bad dialogue just kills anything to me. I’m not going to teach how to write dialogue … I’m looking for people that are not just proficient at that, but are taking the idea of putting words on the page in dialogue and doing something that is powerful and stunning.
FD: Is quarterfinaling in a contest, without winning, enough to grab your attention?
LS: The thing about contests is that they incentivize things checking all the boxes, but then de-focus on, “Maybe it didn’t check all the boxes, but it was the best idea,” or “It was the most compellingly unique writing.” Which I’m looking for.
Those things tend to be more in the quarterfinals. Because to win Nicholl, you have to have 15 people say your script’s good. Well, I’ve maybe had one or two scripts in my entire life, career, that everyone loves.
It tends to make things a little bit soft sometimes with the winners. And I’m trying to find the loudest thing.
Out of two people, if one person loves it … I’ll take that one. I’ll take the one that got a 10 and a four over the one that got two sevens. Every single day of the week, I’ll take the 10.
All you need is one person to say yes to make a movie sometimes. So if one person gave this script a 10, cool. I’ll be able to find another person that will give it a 10, too. At least one … seven doesn’t get anybody anything. It can’t be something that just floats down the middle.
Hollywood sometimes will have these bake-offs where someone will have some kind of hot script or movie or whatever, and every single person is trying to sign that person. But it doesn’t mean that script is better than some script that I can go find in any quarterfinals or Nicholl that no one’s hunting after.
The idea of competing against 15 other managers to try and sign someone—there’s enough fish. There are enough good writers to go around.
FD: Why do you like judging for FD?
LS: You guys support writers in a real way. I see you have a lot of success stories with your winners. I really like when you have the winners come out. You really parade them around everywhere.
You put them in front of people—not just that they win or they’re finalists, but, “Pay attention to these people. Meet with them.” We have a little lunch, and you’ll put these writers in a lunch with 12 other managers … that’s something that’s very tangible and must be very helpful.
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Screenwriter / Playwright / Script Reader
Asmara Bhattacharya is a produced screenwriter/playwright, script reader, and festival screener, with multiple placements at Final Draft, Nicholl, Austin Film Festival, and other competitions. A trusted sounding board and consultant for industry professionals, dedicated fans also caught her in “Independence Day: Resurgence” and NBC’s “The Night Shift” – for one glorious half-second each. More can be found on her website: www.dickflicks.net or follow her on Twitter @hotpinkstreak