GUIDING LIGHTS: MATTHEW ORTON ON AGENTS, MGM AND SAUSAGES
10 February 2016
Throughout our seventh Guiding Lights film mentoring programme, we're running a series of articles giving insight into the participants’ journeys and experiences.
In this, our fourth article, writer Matthew Orton tells us about his experience in Hollywood, where his feature script Hunting Eichmann, a Nazi-era thriller about the team that hunted down and captured war criminal Adolf Eichmann, was secured by MGM.
When the Guiding Lights team asked me to write a blog post about my experiences on the scheme, I must admit, I panicked a little. The last few months have shot by and I’m still not sure if I’ve worked out which bits are worth sharing. On top of that, any attempt to describe what has happened felt just that fraction too close to the dreaded #humblebrag.
After some pondering, I figured that my best strategy was to write a quick summary of events, followed by a clunky piece about sausages. Bear with me.
Having been selected for the Guiding Lights scheme in the summer of 2015, I was then, in October, chosen as one of Screen’s Stars of Tomorrow. Both were lovely, I was happy, my folks were thrilled. Then in early November, I was picked up by Jeff Silver, a US manager at, and founder of, Grandview, who called after reading Hunting Eichmann. Arguably one of the coolest people I’ve ever met, Jeff totally deserves the unofficial title of Best Manager™ that had been touted about town long before our paths’ collided.
He got my script put in front of the right people – and it was taken up by MGM. They then attached Matt Charman, my Guiding Lights mentor (Bridge of Spies) to exec, and a fantastic guy called Brian Kavanaugh-Jones (Insidious / Sinister), to produce. I couldn’t be more thrilled with the team I’ll be working with, plus, there’s finally someone in my life I can legitimately refer to by their initials (BKJ).
MGM flew me, and my wonderful UK agent Emily Hickman, out to LA. I had a whirlwind tour of the city, involving meetings, pitches and breakfasts (French toast at Blu Jam Café is always the right choice). I was told to go fuck myself on a couple of occasions, but, in general, people were very friendly. Which was good news. I then sold a new alien invasion project, also to MGM, which I can’t wait to get writing. Which was even better news.
After meeting various agents, I finally chose to sign with a fantastic team at WME (William Morris Agency). However, despite them expressing with crystal clear clarity what they’d do to help me further my career, by that point, I was so hungover/exhausted, that only a fraction of it registered. In my defense, I’d also just moved to an Airbnb that had a real-life, grumpy-as-hell, pig living in it (who vegetarians will be mortified to hear was the inspiration behind the coming sausage metaphor).
Since returning to the UK I’ve often been asked questions like: “what do all these people actually do?”, “just how does a manager differ from an agent?”, “why do you need a US team?”, “who actually buys what out there?” And, after a little bullshit, a lot of head-scratching, and briefly recalling glimmers of info, I think I finally get it.
THE FILM INDUSTRY/SAUSAGE METAPHOR (in which your script/film/idea stars as the sausage).
Your British agent found you when your sausage making ambition was a mere pipe dream. They got you those early supply chain meetings, helped establish your reputation and advised on flavour (and maybe even explained what “rusk” is). Together, you experiment until you produced a sausage that was palatable to a wide audience.
Your manager then furthers your ambition of crafting the perfect sausage. They know the buyers’ tastes, and what makes for a palatable stateside sausage (turkey meat, apparently). But they also bring their own secret spices to your recipe. You’ve stepped up from straight Cumberland to caramelised red onion, and you’re bloody loving it.
Your US agent(s) may wish to add their own little sprinkles of paprika or dashes of orange juice to the recipe, but their real skill is in packaging. They know how to present your sausage. Fancy labels, the word “organic” everywhere, that kind of thing. With their help, your product goes from tasty-as-fuck to damn near irresistible. They’ll also hear when there’s a shout-out for a freelance sausage maker, when your sausage needs reconceptualising, and when an actor or director has a particular need or appetite. They also sometimes throw excellent pub quizzes.
Finally, studios buy sausages. Not exclusively, but mainly. And they buy either the fully-formed sausage, or a planned sausage. They want to know the basic ingredients, but are more concerned with what the market for this type of sausage is, and how certain it is you’ll make it delicious.
So there we are. The sausage metaphor. My attempt to say anything even vaguely useful. I suppose it’s more of an allegory, really. Maybe it would’ve been better with bacon. Has it made anyone else hungry?
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