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Interview with Manager / Producer / Book-to-TV/Film Agent Extraordinaire Brandy Rivers!

I have a very special guest today! Brandy Rivers is a literary manager and producer who runs the book-to-tv/film department at Magnet Management. If you've seen her name around the web recently, it was probably in connection to Myra McEntire's HOURGLASS, which she recently sold to Fox on behalf of Holly Root at Waxman Literary Agency. She's also on Twitter @BrandyRivers8. If you're curious about her clients and various roles in books, tv, and film, here's her muy impressive bio. Then read on to the interview below!

Brandy Rivers is currently a literary manager/producer working in both film and television at Magnet Management. In that capacity, she is responsible for representing authors, screenwriters, and directors as well as developing underlying material including novels, articles, blogs, video games and life rights for production. Among her many clients, she currently represents Dave Lease (THE LEFT TURN set up at Lionsgate Films), Chris McKenna (Co-Executive Producer on COMMUNITY), Craig Titley (CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTNING THIEF), Robyn Harding (CHRONICLES OF A MIDLIFE CRISIS in TV development with Gary Fleder/ABC Studios), Angela Nissel (SCRUBS, TIL DEATH, BROKE DIARIES in development at Lionsgate, MIXED previously in development with Halle Barry/HBO), and Myra McEntire (HOURGLASS set to debut in May ‘11 by Egmont). Brandy is also a producer on the upcoming Lifetime pilot DEAR HAILEY based on the book SHATTERED SILENCE. Prior to becoming a manager, Brandy worked in development, most recently at Underground Films, a production/management company whose credits include REMEMBER ME, a film she helped oversee from development through post production. Previously, she worked at Summit Entertainment where she helped develop such projects as the TWILIGHT FRANCHISE, SEX DRIVE, and KNOWING. She began her career at Jerry Bruckheimer Television where she worked on over 430 hours of primetime network television including the CSI FRANCHISE, WITHOUT A TRACE, COLD CASE, E RING, and CLOSE TO HOME among many others. Brandy is a proud graduate of the University of North Carolina where she received a BA in Psychology and played Division 1 Soccer.

Hi Brandy! I'm incredibly excited for this interview. Thank you so much for your time. Please, start us off with a little about yourself and Magnet Management.

Thank you so much for having me! I grew up in a small town and was an avid fan of books, film and television. After graduating from college, I headed straight to Los Angeles to pursue my lifelong dream of getting coffee. I’m just kidding, to a degree. It is true that you have to get a lot of coffee before you can do what I like to call “grown up” work and to this day I can still make a mean latte.

My first job in the business was at Jerry Bruckheimer Television. It was there that I had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented writers in Hollywood on shows such as COLD CASE, WITHOUT A TRACE, and the CSI franchise. After JBTV, I transitioned to Summit Entertainment where I learned the film business. It was during my time at Summit while I really missed working in television, and went in search of a job where I could do both film and television and found: artist representation. Working as a manager has given me the ability to combine my experience in film and television with my desire to find and nurture new talent. In my current capacity, I work with writers across all mediums including film, television and books. It’s important to clarify, though, that I only work with authors to sell their material to film and television and do not sale books to publishing. My passion is giving writers a home where they are heard, and an outlet to accomplish their dreams; whether that dream is to see one of their books on the big screen or move from being an accomplished author to writing original movies or television series.

My company Magnet Management began as one of the first Literary Management Companies, Zide/Perry Entertainment. Zide/Perry was behind such movies as AMERICAN PIE, FINAL DESTINATION, and the CATS AND DOGS series. The principles of that company Warren Zide and Craig Perry decided to shift their focus to producing and dissolved their partnership. The remaining managers formed a new entity called Magnet that focused specifically on client representation and development.

Artist representation seems like a perfect meld of what you love in books, television and film. Was it projects like TWILIGHT at Summit that led you to books to film?

At Bruckheimer we tracked books for television and were constantly on the lookout for great source material. In fact, pouring through books and articles was one of my favorite parts of the job. It was at Summit, however, when I realized for the first time how passionate book fans are about authors and about material. This experience made me much more excited about book to film. Sometimes in the film business, you can put your blood sweat and tears into something and then, when your movie premieres, it’s basically over. In a typical film release pattern, box office drops approximately 50% each weekend. When you work on something with a passionate fan base like TWILIGHT, however, fans talk about and promote the movies online well after the opening weekend and the week to week fall off is much lower.

I love how adaptations create book sales as well. Totally win-win! What's an average day in the office like for you (if such a thing exists)?

Wow, that’s an interesting question. My days are mainly filled with reading books and scripts and talking on the phone about what I read. Sounds crazy right? But it’s the truth. I have to leave a little bit of time for socializing with studio & network executives, as well as producers. So my breakfast, lunch, and evening calendars are pretty full. Hollywood is about who you know so it’s important to see old friends and meet new people.

I see you not only manage talent but produce for major studios. Are you usually involved this way in the projects you sell?

I produce for the major studios occasionally, but most of my job is to sale books to them and let other companies produce. Sometimes it just makes sense to have me produce and sometimes the writers want me to. When your client really trusts that you have their best interest at heart they feel more comfortable knowing that you are going to be in every meeting and fighting for their vision every day. Some writers don’t feel like they need that. So I would say that it’s determined on a case-by-case basis, but my primary business is sales.

You co-agent for a number of literary agencies too, correct? How do you decide which projects to pitch, and what are you looking for when you read a client's work?

Yep, I work with many literary agents as a co-agent. I feel very fortunate because I get to work with some of the best agents in publishing and am meeting wonderful new agents everyday. As to how I decide what projects to pitch, it’s all based on passion. Sometimes it takes a long time to find the right home for a property, and many times, a book is optioned several times before it is produced. I have to wake up in the morning excited about a project and keep fighting for it, sometimes for years. But it’s also important to know that I have material on my list that I can sell. Some is harder than others, and the list of what is hard changes every day.

That passion comes through. Your clients are lucky to have you! Do you also scout? Or accept submission directly from writers?

Yes, I do both. I really enjoy discovering new writers. Earlier this year I was pitched a book idea at a wedding that I thought was interesting. I decided to help the author develop the proposal and then teamed him up with a publishing agent who took it out and sold it. The book is currently on submission to several television production companies for development. Just today, in fact, an exec I submitted it to told me that it was one of the best pieces of material that she had read this year!

It’s fun to discover new writers and even more fun to call them with good news. It’s one of my favorite parts of the job!

How does a book-to-film/tv deal come about? Walk us through a deal.

Book to film/tv deals can come about in a million different ways. Sometimes a studio head, network exec, or big star will fall in love with a piece of material they come across in their day to day lives and make a preemptive offer. Other times, an intern will be combing through the slush pile and find something amazing that works its way up the development chain until it turns into a deal. The traditional way for film is to take the book out to production companies. The goal is to have several producers vying for the property as this raises the profile of the material and generates “heat” around town. The next step is to split up the town, which means that you assign different studios to the producers. The producers then take the property in and fight for the studios to buy it for them. It sounds counterintuitive, but for the most part, production companies do not spend their own money on material. The reason many of them have studio deals is to get the studios to purchase material on behalf of the company.

I find that, generally, this method does not have a high success rate anymore. Today, most studios want to buy something that feels more like a full movie, rather than a piece of development. This means that studios want packages, which is a piece of material with a writer attached and maybe a director and actor as well.

That's so interesting! What's the difference between selling to film versus television?

Film is a director’s medium and television is more the writer’s medium. So, when I’m packaging a book for film, generally I like to approach a director first while in television my first step is to attach a writer or showrunner. Don’t get me wrong, I have sold to television without a writer attached, but it’s certainly not easy. The first question a television executive asks is: “Who is going to write it?” This is particularly important because the exec wants to know that they have someone in place who can helm the series through multiple seasons and potentially hundreds of episodes.

Another big difference between film and television is in the time commitment. When you sell something to television, you generally know pretty quickly (usually within 12 months) whether you are going to series or not. In film, the development process can take years. One famous book, A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, has been in continual development for three decades. While that’s certainly not typical, it’s illustrative of how the filmmaking process can sometimes get off track.

Overall, I would say that most books lend themselves either to film or television. So it’s mostly based on which your project would be best for.

So, how does your role evolve through the process of a book becoming a film?

As a co-agent, my role starts with the sale! Sales can come from heat (meaning a bunch of studios want to option the property) or from putting together a package that generates interest (adding a director or a piece of talent). It’s the most exciting part of the process until the movie premieres. After a sale, my job turns into making a lot of phone calls. I frequently check in and monitor the process to ensure that the ball is still rolling and all parties remain excited! I also have to make sure that my client continues working towards future goals. It’s easy to get distracted by a big feature or tv sale, but I want my clients to keep working on new material.

When I produce a project, I am much more involved in the day-to-day process. I’m in every meeting and am privy to much more information. That process also starts with the sale, but then moves on to putting a writer on it, developing the script, putting a director on, and then casting.

How involved (or not-involved) are authors throughout that same process?

This is a very tough question to answer, because it varies widely. When I work with authors I give them the latitude to determine how involved they want to be. Some authors are highly involved while others want me to just call them when we have a deal! My primary goal is to make sure that what my client wants comes first and foremost.

Once a studio comes on board, it’s hard to say exactly how involved the author will be. In television particularly, it is much more difficult to stay involved because of the tight schedule that the project is on. Once a show goes to series, it’s typical for the author to be a consultant on the project at least for the first year or two. After that, they sometimes stay on the staff and other times don’t.

We've all of heard of books that get optioned but never go into production. What factors are at work here?

Yes, it does happen that way sometimes. I tell authors not to believe that it will be a movie until it’s actually in production. That being said, studios are not purchasing rights to books anymore without making a serious commitment. They have learned that, if they don’t want to make the movie or send the pilot to series, then it is just a waste of money.

The factors at work in the decision making process here are usually auspices. Who is the writer? Did the writer deliver a draft that will draw further talent (actors or a director)? The movie making process is all about getting your project to a place where the studio feels comfortable spending 30 million dollars (sometimes more, sometimes less) on the product. The book and its success in publishing help, but don’t always make the decision a no brainer. Take a film like WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. The book was a huge NY Times best seller but no one saw the movie. But then you have projects like THE HELP that would have never been made without the success of the book that was a smashing success.

Great to hear studios are committing seriously. How is writing books different from writing for film/tv? Do writers ever make that transition, or even write their own adaptations?

The biggest difference is that writing for movies and television is a lot more dialog driven and you have fewer pages to tell your story in. This can be a struggle for novelists initially as most of them enjoy evoking rich detail in their prose and have to learn to be more economical in their use of language.

To answer your second questions, yes, writers do make the transition all the time! And I love it when they do… it’s fun to work with authors on learning the ins and outs of writing for film and television. The process of writing a movie or novel is much the same. You do it at home, by yourself, and can do it in your PJs! Writing for television is more like a job. You go to work and sit in a writer’s room breaking stories as a group. Then, writers on staff are assigned individual episodes which are written over a week or several days, often at home.

With writers who want to make the transition to features, I suggest adapting one of their novels on spec to take out with the book. This proves to the studios and production companies that you can write in screenplay form. With television, breaking in is a bit different. Unless you are a huge bestselling author, most of the time the networks will not buy for an unknown writer. In that case, I usually recommend for a writer to start by writing screenplays. After a sale or two on the feature side, it becomes much easier to sell a pilot.

Great advice, Brandy. What's selling right now?

In television, intricate and interesting characters always are a draw. Anything with the typical lawyer, cop, or doctor such as BONES and RIZZOLI AND ISLES usually works. You can also sell soapy material like GOOD CHRISTIAN BELLES. Most of the premium cable networks like to explore worlds that have never been seen before like WALKING DEAD or GAME OF THRONES. The most important thing to look for in underlying material for television is storylines that can run for 100 episodes.

In features, I feel like it changes every day. YA is tough if the material doesn’t stand apart from the other YA books that are already shooting as movies. For instance, vampires, werewolves, and dystopian futures are really hard to sell right now. That being said, there are situations in which they will sell. Big worlds, contained thrillers, and family adventures are always big hits. But again, anything is possible in features.

The one thing to always remember choosing material is that movies are meant to be seen in group settings on the big screen and are therefore world driven. Television is meant to be watched in your home either alone or with your loved ones, so it’s about bringing the characters into your home for an hour each week.

That's a great way to look at it! Before you get back to your busy day, I'd love to hear about your recent deals and clients. Fire away!

Sure, I work with a lot of great clients every day. I represent Angela Nissel who wrote the books THE BROKE DIARIES which is in development at Lionsgate, and MIXED which she developed at HBO with Halle Barry. She was also a Co-EP on SCRUBS, and Consulted for TIL DEATH. I also work with Craig Titley who adapted PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTNING THEIF for Fox, 20,000 LEAGUES for Sam Raimi and Sony. This season, I set up Robyn Harding’s CHRONICLES OF A MIDLIFE CRISIS to ABC Studios for Gary Fleder to produce.

As a producer, two of my recent deals are Myra McEntire’s HOURGLASS which is set up at 20th Century Fox, with John Davis producing and myself executive producing and SHATTERED SILENCE which is set up at Lifetime and now called DEAR HAILEY. On that project, I am executive producing with Ashton Kutcher.

I'll be watching for these! Thank you, again, for your time, Brandy. It's been such a pleasure, and I've learned so much!

Thank you!! I have really enjoyed our chat and hope that I didn’t talk your ear off!

Not at all! We could discuss this stuff all day, and I'm sure I'd still have more questions.

Isn't she great, everyone? As you read above, Brandy
is open to submissions. Just remember, she does NOT represent authors to publishers! She's looking for screenplays and books for adaptation to TV/film. Here are her guidelines:

I am looking for anything except horror, romance, dystopian YA, and any vampires. Otherwise, I am wide open to anything!

Send a query and the first five pages of your material to me via email at brandy(at)magnetmanagement(dot)com. We are a green company, so please no snail mail queries.

Tip: when writing your query letters, please make them fun! The more personality I see in your query letter, the more excited it will make me about you as a writer. Remember that while it is mostly about your material, YOU are still the client.

Hope you enjoyed the interview. Please leave a comment if you have time, and good luck if you query!


Jaye Robin Brown said...

Really fascinating interview - thanks for posting it!

Unknown said...

WOW. Such an excellent, thorough interview. It's so interesting to have some insight into how the book to movie process works. Thank you so much for your in-depth responses, Brandy!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks Casey and Brandy for an awesome interview. We often hear from authors that their book is being optioned but nothing about the process of getting it to be an actual movie or TV series. It's so interesting to learn what goes on behind the scenes.

Marta Szemik said...

Thank you for the great interview. Those are some great topics. I'd always wondered how the television/tv series come to life.

Matthew MacNish said...

These awesome posts leave my comments feeling completely inadequate.

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

Wow, learned so much! I'm not sure if my agent works with Brandy or not, but definitely something worth looking into. She seems to really know her stuff.

Amazing interview!

Lydia Kang said...

Okay, that sounds like a dream job! Great interview, thank you both!

lisa and laura said...

FANTASTIC interview. Absolutely fascinating! I have my fingers crossed that HOURGLASS get picked up. Love that book.

Martha Ramirez said...

What an awesome interview!! Thank you to both of you.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That was fascinating! I never knew the process.
And while a huge best seller would've been cool, I've wanted to see a mo ie version of CassaStar even more.

Angela Ackerman said...

Really neat to get a window into the movie sales and adaptation end of this business. It's really every writer's dream!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Unknown said...

Awesome post!

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