Big Break Welcomes New Judge, Literary Manager Jonathan Hersh
For writers who truly want to know how to make good in Hollywood, there is Jonathan Hersh.
By reading thousands of scripts as a literary manager for his company, Housefire Management (and thousands before that), Hersh became decisive; a man who can make the point without simplifying it: “If you don’t live in L.A., it’s easier if you do,” he said.
“If you meet someone that can help you, make sure you have something good to share; preferably not a rough first draft.”
Hersh is bringing what he knows to Final Draft’s 2018 Big Break Screenwriting Contest as a judge. So, what, generally, do writers need to know going in? Stand out.
“When you read a lot of scripts, they all start to blend together after a while,” Hersh said.
For him, the finest work exists in a place far from where other scripts live, but inside specific genre molds; “incendiary material,” he calls it.
His process for selecting work has two steps: First, Hersh asks himself how the script he is reading compares to those that already exist. Second, he contemplates its selling potential; does it have what he calls a “really sharp, marketable hook?”
And while there is much to be said about the quality of the work, Hersh reminds us that the script and its writer come together.
“I think it’s important not to be arrogant,” he said.
“Talent is the first step, but it’s also important to be open to change.”
Strong work ethic (“[screenwriting] is an oftentimes thankless job,” Hersh said); knowledge of many, many scripts and the ability to respond positively to new direction are qualities he looks for in his clients.
Whatever Hersh knows, he earned by doing his time in the industry.
He describes his role as a story analyst for Creative Artists Agency as his start. After that, he moved to Broad Green Pictures as an assistant story editor and eventually, a development executive. It was there that he rounded out his perspective of the film industry.
“I worked in development … for nearly three years and got to see the “buyer’s” side of the industry,” he said.
From there, Hersh took jobs that let him stay in film even when they were not directly related to his long-term goals; in 2010, he worked as a production finance assistant at Showtime Networks Inc. For nearly two years, Hersh spent his days coding and auditing purchase orders, invoices and timecards in the accounting department.
That was after he interned at New Regency Productions, Phoenix Pictures, Benaroya Pictures and finally, Lionsgate Entertainment.
Seeing so many sides of the industry gave him the knowledge he needed to make decisions about his future.
“I wanted to continue working with writers and developing material, so [literary] management was a natural fit for me,” he said.
If you’re wondering whether there is work that meets Hersh’s high, well-informed standards, the answer is yes; it comes in the form of what he is working on next (outside of possibly reading your script as part of Big Break).
“I have one client who wrote a stunning TV pilot that is being produced by a top-notch production company,” he said.
“It’s still early, but it’s a big sci-fi thing and I think it has great potential.”