Where are you currently employed?
Universal Pictures’ feature film development.
I've been assigned to projects ranging from Despicable Me to Battleship to Candyland to The Change-Up.
Describe Your Job.
Analysts take whatever script comes to them on a daily basis with the remote hope that it will be something worth recommending, buying and making into a feature. It's often an exercise in futility. There's the outside chance that something will speak to you in a cogent, literate, entertaining way, and have the potential to draw in moviegoers.
The other half of the job is taking on projects that have already been purchased. I attempt to not only amplify what the studio saw in the idea, but nudge it, with excruciating detail and verbal debate, into the direction of adherence to classic dramatic structure, as has been established as effective through eons of storytelling.
How did you become interested in this line of work?
I started out as a talent agent's assistant. I realized that reading the scripts was far more interesting than agenting. Also, good scripts are the currency of the business. Knowing a good script is the greatest asset one can have in the business.
Who gave you your first break?
As a freelance analyst, I worked briefly for people like Joel Silver, Carolco, and TNT Television. Monika Skerbelis, the Universal story editor in the 1980s, gave me my first break. I got into the union fairly early on.
What was your first union job?
At Universal, under the Casey Silver regime.
Which of your credits or projects have made you the most proud and why?
I take pride whenever there is a turnabout in a script, taking it up at least one grade level. To that end, I’m proud of everything I’ve worked on. My most recent credits at Universal include Vampire's Assistant (Cirque du Freak), Repo Men, Love Happens and the upcoming films Despicable Me and Paul. My Disney credits include Tron Legacy, Inspector Gadget, Sky High, Mighty Joe Young and Instinct, among others.
On rare occasion, a script that I recommend gets into the development process, but the majority of titles that people would recognize ultimately come about through producers and their alliances. There are many other titles that I have recommended and that I work on that won't make the cut. The more relevant and interesting part of the job is the notes on projects that come to fruition.
Scripts like Narnia don’t require much. This is often the case with big, producer-driven vehicles. Lesser projects have a more notable influence from the reader’s politically impartial voice. Ultimately, readers only have the audience’s best interests in mind.
What was your biggest challenge in your job (or on a particular project) and how did you overcome/solve it?
The biggest challenge these days seems to be convincing executives to fight for thematic fixes that inflate character or create an arrangement of scenes that generate anticipation, suspense, or expectation...even in a comedy. The current mindset, that visual effects or actor charisma will pave over glaring mistakes, is an ongoing battle. People go to the movies to see other people in jeopardy or in a unique situation. They don't go to see crass visual excess. That's been proven time and again.
What was the most fun you’ve had at work?
The camaraderie among story analysts is unlike any other. It's a shared melancholy about the dubious choices made by superiors, of which we often have little control, even when advice has been such that a success could have been had, or a failure could have been avoided. Every day is fun, as it requires that we focus on the passion of movies. It's what keeps us going.
I imagine it's a bit like being a psychologist, listening to patients tell their fantastic, sometimes rambling stories, then meeting up with other psychologists and talking about how crazy that last guy was.
Jobwise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?
I imagine I’ll be doing the same kind of work, assuming I’m still considered useful to the studio. Analysis is a direct connect to the material. Unless I’ve written a script of my own, it’s the purest form of the development process.
What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?
I have two kids, aged 13 and 9. My son and I have a shared interest in art, and I enjoy music with my daughter. My own activities are on hold for another five to ten years. I write when I can.
Favorite movie(s)? Why?
The first Star Wars trilogy and the Indiana Jones series drew me to the business. I have a favorite movie every year. Comedy and action are my favorite genres, but I appreciate just about everything that garners any kind of notable public momentum...and some films that don't. As an analyst, it's not just about what you like, but what others like. It's hard to break from that mindset.
Favorite TV Program(s)? Why?
Right now, The Office, 30 Rock, Eastbound and Down and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Comedy just works better on TV. This is a renaissance period for unique stuff.
Do you have an industry mentor?
I don't really have a mentor.
What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?
When people say they love reading, and think that they would therefore love this job, they should be aware that it's not about you. You're not sitting cozy by a fire with a hot cup of tea. It's you, working through a literary puzzle under deadline, making sense of it, and delivering a professional answer that would be helpful to others.
It's comparable to writing a column for a newspaper. Unforgiving deadlines. Irascible personalities. It's a game of Russian Roulette, and the script is a gun to your head.
Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?
When I was downsized from Disney after 16 years, the Guild tried, but the job market shrank, just like in the rest of the world. I quickly came to realize that you can only really rely on yourself.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members?
Never lose sight of what drew you to the movies––the fun and the social connection. And in the words of X-Men Professor Charles Xavier, "Don't let it control you."
- compiled by Robin Rowe