Interview by Jim Cirile
Jason Scoggins is a manager and partner of Protocol, a Beverly Hills management company. But he’s best known for his monthly Spec Script Roundup, which you can sign up for by visiting www.lifeonthebubble.com. He’s also the founder of itsonthegrid.com, a subscription site that tracks spec screenplays and sales. In short, this is pretty useful intelligence for anyone serious about mounting an armed assault on Hollywood. We sat down with Jason for a lovely chat about all sorts of things. Enjoy!
Jim Cirile: Give us a quick heads-up on who Jason Scoggins is.
Jason Scoggins: Sure. I grew up in L.A. I had no friends or family in the entertainment business. I caught the bug early when I saw “Star Wars” as a kid, which is dating myself, I realize. (After college,) I screwed around for a couple of years after I graduated and finally I got my shit together in ‘95. And I became an assistant at ICM. My boss was Nancy Josephson, who was, at the time- -- I think she still represents Bright, Kauffman and Crane, who created “Friends.” That was the summer after “Friends” had debuted. So it was quite a heady time for the agency and for her and for the TV business in general. Before I got on her desk, I didn’t know anything about the TV business. I mean, I was always a film guy. And fell in love with the TV business itself. And ended up getting promoted to her second assistant and then promoted off her desk to departmental assistant in the TV lit department, which was sort of the coordinator-like position.
Cirile: You went to Gersh as a TV lit agent, right?
Scoggins: Right, in ’98. I cut my teeth as a TV lit agent for a couple of years. And then I went to Writers and Artists for about six months in 2000. And right about the time I was tired of being an agent, which we can talk about in a second, a friend called and said hey, why don’t you come do business development for me at my internet company? I said sure, because I was in a weak spot. I actually didn’t really know what my next step was inside the business. That sounded like something really fun and cool to do. I was really done being an agent. So I said yes and that led to seven years in the wilderness, going from one sort of year plus job to another and a bunch of different businesses from healthcare to wholesale gifts and collectibles to... I even spent a year sort of helping out a friend on their insurance defense lawsuit as sort of the guy who could talk enough legal speak and enough nonlegal speak to sort of coordinate between the lawyers and the people on the ground, as it were.
Cirile: But they couldn’t keep you away for long.
Scoggins: I sold my house in Park City in 2006. Bought a house here in Playa del Rey. I had a day job, which was selling website content management systems that were optimized for hospitals. (Meanwhile, ) I signed a couple of clients and developed material. I was really good friends with Brian Inerfeld, one of the founders of Protocol. I called him up and (asked) if I could build a book of business under the Protocol umbrella. I’m sure he thought that I was just blowing smoke, but I proved him wrong. And so in 2007, I started doing that, basically in January. And by May or June, John Ufland, my other partner, and Brian could tell that I was serious and so we talked about doing it properly. So I became a partner. It’s a small company; three managers, a couple of assistants.
Cirile: Cool. Okay, so it’s obviously time-consuming enough just to be a manager. How did you become the spec market guru?
Scoggins: Life on the Bubble and It’s on the Grid. I write these two articles a month. One looks back at the previous month’s spec market. I call that the Spec Market Roundup ‘cause I’m a genius when it comes to titling things. And then I do the Spec Market Score Card, which rolls up the numbers for the entire year to date. The Score Card looks up the numbers on the whole, and in particular what buyers are buying what, how many projects the buyers are buying, how many projects the sellers are taking out. You can see over time who’s really killing it on the agency and management side and who’s not having that level of success (as well as) which buyers are really serious about specs, if any, and how that compares to other buyers.
Cirile: All in a wonderfully unscientific way.
Scoggins: Exactly. I’m as far away from a statistician as it gets.
Cirile: How do you find the time? I mean that’s an awful lot of research. And, you know, you’ve got clients now.
Scoggins: Yeah, exactly. So to go off on a tangent on that for a little bit. In 2009, I did spend a considerable amount of time between Life in a Bubble and those reports and It’s on the Grid. But it was also at a time when the market was incredibly slow and I hadn’t build my reputation and my business far enough to break through those barriers. Last year, very few specs sold and the people who got open writing assignments tend to be the people who would get open writing assignments, who I didn’t represent at the time. I’ve got a couple of guys who are totally qualified now based on the stuff that they did at the end of 2008 and through 2009. So it’s a little bit different now. Writing those articles does take a certain amount of time though. It’s probably a full days work for each one. But again, I get enough value out of it that it’s worth doing. And because I work long, long hours, it’s not like its taking me a full day during the work day and I’m not making phone calls.
Cirile: I’m looking through the latest Spec Market Score Card and it’s pretty bleak. The studios are sitting on the sidelines, looking for any excuse to do nothing, spend no money and basically not put anything into development. And the smaller buyers are hopefully stepping up and picking up the slack and stuff like that. But still, it’s pretty damn depressing. Is there a ray of hope out there for the emerging writer?
Cirile: In other words, drafts for free.
Scoggins: “We love this project, but here’s our notes. Go rewrite it for nothing and come back and we’ll do the whole process again with the idea that we’ll be attached as producers and we’ll go use our producer acumen to set it set up as soon as its read.”
Cirile: As Julien Thuan from UTA pointed out to me, one thing that is not mentioned in your Score Card is that even stuff that’s been set up with multiple bidders are seeing pricing drops.
Cirile: Back in the day, they’d be going in with starting offers of 500K or whatever and then, basically, the thing would be going out at 750K, 850K against $1.2 million or whatever. And now the opening bids are, like, scale. Previously, agents would laugh at offers like that. But now they can’t.
Scoggins: And no guaranteed multiple drafts.
Cirile: One-step deals, exactly. No more draft, set and a polish.
Cirile: Seriously? Wouldn’t that be discovered in about a second?
Scoggins: You would think so, but there was a rumor that DreamWorks was coming in with a preemptive offer. I heard from a friend at DreamWorks that no, in fact they’d passed. But that rumor persisted for a while -- whether that was (the management company’s) doing or not, I don’t know -- and (script) ended up selling. Another thing that happened was some blog posts said it sold for a million dollars, when in fact it was a very respectable $400K against $1 million is what I heard.
Cirile: So basically, agents and managers have lost a lot of leverage, and the studios hold all the cards. How do we get it back?
Scoggins: Well, packaging up a project is certainly one way to develop leverage. The best way to sell a script is to have two different buyers that want to buy it, and then suddenly you have some leverage -- the traditional sort of sales tactics of getting a couple of people to think that it’s hot as can be and get them to bid on it. “Abduction” is a great example. But there are limits to being able to continue to use those standard old tactics. I think the only thing we can do is have as tight a piece of material as possible and package it up as far as it can possibly go. And then masterful sales tactics from agents and managers to get more than one studio hot to buy it, and suddenly you have leverage again.
Cirile: Thanks for everything, Jason!