Pursuing Literary Happiness with Literary Manager and Big Break Judge, Chris Coggins
From Vice President of Production and Development to Literary Manager, Chris Coggins shared her insights on the many facets of film production. After unearthing a script sample at ICM, she notably co-produced Hope Springs, starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. During her career, she collaborated with directors Luc Besson and David Frankel. She also worked on successful films like The Pursuit of Happiness and The Great Debaters. Now, she’s bringing her expertise to the literary department at Heroes and Villains, creating projects that resonate personally and professionally.
Celeste Thorson: How did you get into the industry?
Chris Coggins: I went to USC film school and was an intern at Escape Artists my senior year. They hired me as an assistant when I graduated. I was there for 10 years and learned a lot. What to look for in a script. What to look for in a great character. Then, I went to work at Lionsgate with Allison Shearmur, and learned even more. How to sell a project to the studio. How the studio looks at a movie. After that, I went to Rock Paper Scissors, a company established in the commercial world and special effects. After that, I moved to EuropaCorp. I learned more about how a director looks at a project. Also, which international markets are looking for which genres of projects.
CT: Can you elaborate on the difference between the writer, director, and studio perspectives?
CC: I think when you make a movie there are five different versions. There’s the movie you read, shoot, edit, sell, and the movie the audience sees. You have to be cognitive of all of those different iterations. Who is the audience? What’s their demographic? How are they going to watch that story? As a development executive, you have to figure out is this just great writing, or is this actually a movie that we can sell? You have to look at it as a product, something that will commercially resonate with the audience so they go see the movie. They have to be wowed and see something they haven’t seen before to get them into the theater.
CT: What attracted you to management at Heroes and Villains?
CC: I’d been approached by a couple of different management companies over the years. After EuropaCorp, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. I thought, “I do have that skill set in my wheelhouse.” It’s a lot like development at a production company—instead of producing projects, you’re producing people. It’s all the same relationships, same companies, same mandates. It’s just figuring it out from a different point of view.
CT: What do you look for in a potential client?
CC: Definitely a distinct voice. How do you look at the world? How do you see it in a different way? We need more writers that are able to cut through the clutter with a unique and interesting perspective. Why is it important to you? Writers with something personal in their script. I think that’s why people go to the movies. They had a personal connection to it. What’s your unique point of view on the world, and are you a good person?
CT: What suggestions do you have for a writer seeking representation?
CC: You’re selling yourself and your brand. I hate to say it, but everybody else is looking at you as a product, so you might as well get used to that. My clients have all been through referrals. Talk to your other writer friends with representation and see if they’re willing to talk to their reps about you. I think Final Draft is a good competition. Get your work into festivals, writers’ workshops, and competitions. Patience, but persistence, if someone says no, that’s their loss: Just take it and move on. If you really believe in yourself and your writing, you will be able to find the right representation.
CT: What types of projects are you seeing interest in at the moment?
CC: Everybody wants Arrival, they want a mid-budget sci-fi movie that’s grounded but elevated. Bring me sci-fi that’s under $40 million dollars; Arrival, Ex Machina, District 9, all things that could be made on a budget. A lot of studios want to reinvent the romantic comedy. Some studios and a couple of their financiers want big, family, action-adventure movies. The TV space is kind of the wild west, still hard to sell a show unless you’re Shonda Rhimes.
CT: What other elements of a script’s package help you pitch effectively?
CC: The director, producer, and hopefully talent as well, because that sells it right away. I think a strong producer is important because financiers need to work with a strong producer. Just because they have the money doesn’t mean that they’ve made a movie. Then, I think you need a director to see exactly what that movie is, the personality, the point of view. The director is the person the actors’ trust to make the characters sing and fly, so I think it would benefit from a strong director.
CT: As a Final Draft judge, what advice do you have for writers entering the Big Break Contest?
CC: It’s just like life—you have to believe in yourself. Write something I haven’t seen before, something really personal that will emanate from the page. Write what you want to write; don’t let anyone tell you what you should write. It’s never personal, anything anybody else thinks of you is none of your business. Pay attention to structure, the hero’s journey: All that stuff is very useful; know the rules, but don’t be afraid to break them. Whatever you think your journey is, it’s not going to be that way. There are a lot of ups and downs. Probably more downs than ups, but that’s okay. That’s your journey.
Screenwriter / Actress
Celeste Thorson is a Los Angeles based screenwriter and actress. She’s written and produced numerous lifestyle and E/I television shows. She’s appeared on episodes of CBS’ How I Met Your Mother, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, NBC’s Heartbeat, USA Network’s Unsolved, and TV Land’s The Exes. You can learn more about her work at imdb.me/celestethorson and follow her on Twitter @CelesteThorson