Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Jason Scoggins Report

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 He’s also the founder of, 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?

Scoggins: The studios are making fewer movies, and therefore developing fewer projects, and they also have a certain appetite for projects that have a built-in marketing angle. That’s why we obviously see all the stuff being either rebooted or adapted from books and comic books or video games -- all of those typical things that we all complain about all of the time. And that sucks a lot of the air out of the room for original material. Sony has basically let it be known that they have spent all of their development money for 2010 already or allocated it. So they will not be buying new specs unless it’s a worthy exception to the rule -- stuff that’s coming in almost ready to go -- ready to shoot, big package. Like if you think back to what they did coming out of the strike with “2012” when Roland Emmerich’s team came in with not just a script and not just a production budget, but a shoot date, and basically were auditioning studios – “Tell us why we would allow you to pay for our movie.” Those are the kinds of projects that are gonna get traction, even at a place that is ostensibly closed, like Sony. (Producers need to) realize that the spec market isn’t the root to projects for them like it used to be -- at least not in the “let’s send a script out to the entire town and get people to fight each other to take it into their specific territories” sort of way. That’s still happening a bit, but the producers know that they have to take their best shot. So if they’re taking a script that they don’t feel is going to get traction at the studios, then why play that game? If they’re not going to be successful at their home studio that’s friendly to them, then it doesn’t make sense to even try to compete.

What does make sense is developing material. So what we’re hearing about is a producer saying, “Hey, I really like this and I’d love to take it in, but its not quite there yet and we’ll develop it with you.” And so, circling all the way back to your question, a ray of hope for new writers who aren’t necessarily on the open writing assignment list or haven’t had a huge spec sell before --there remains an appetite with development executives to find new writers, to read new voices and find great material. And there’s an appetite to develop that material until it’s the best version of what it is. But most of them don’t have their own development funds, and what I think we’re seeing here is a period where the non-WGA writer might have an advantage because, frankly, they’re more easy to take advantage of.

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.

Scoggins: Yeah.

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.

 Scoggins: It’s the definition of a buyer’s market. There’s so much material and so many people hungry to sort of take those very few slots at the studios, that they can afford to be selective and not to buy things. The buyers won’t buy something unless they have to. And we’re in this weird period where they don’t have to buy anything. Look at (a recent spec script.) When that came out from (management company), I think they played the media very well. By media, I mean that as broadly as possible -- from Nikki Finke ( to blogs to even the tracking boards where we were seeing reports the minute that thing hit the market. Because (a popular young actor) was attached, they had two offers ready to come in (at the outset.) I remember seeing a blog posting (which read,) “this is out, and two buyers are already preparing to make an offer.” But the way that broke down, and this didn’t widely get reported, but there were immediate passes from, I think, all of the major studios. I think they may have played (the buyer) off against people who weren’t actually in the mix anymore.

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!

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