Q&A with Zach Tann
Interview with Literary Manager and Magnet Management Partner/Co-Founder, Zach Tann
Scripts & Scribes: You graduated from Kalamazoo College in Michigan with a degree in economics. How did you make the transition to the entertainment industry? What drove you to start your own management and production company?
Zach Tann: My cousin, Warren Zide, offered me an internship the summer after my junior year in college and then once I graduated, he called me and asked me to start/manage a website for screenwriters called InZide.com. We were the first site to accept submissions from anywhere in the world with an online release form. From there, I ended up finding writers that I wanted to work with and the transition to a manager happened organically from there. Around 5 years into my career, Warren and Craig Perry decided to shut the company down and myself, Bob Sobhani, and Jennie Frankel Frisbie spun off and formed Magnet in a very amicable split. Hard to believe it will be 10 years in April 2014.
S&S: What is your typical work week like?
ZT: Probably not too different from other managers. I spend a lot of time whether on the phone or in a meeting with clients developing their material and ideas. A lot of the day is spent on the phone or answering/sending emails. I usually have a few lunches or drinks with agents/execs/lawyers. I also handle of the business stuff at Magnet which does take up a bit of time although it’s something I enjoy. In another life, I might have been an entertainment attorney as I love looking through contracts and it’s not uncommon for me to read through a few a week.
S&S: At Magnet, I understand, that all clients are shared between managers. How do you feel this enhances your ability to work for your clients?
ZT: Yes! Thanks for asking this. We love this set up. We feel like the business is so difficult that it’s in the client’s best interest if all of the managers here are incentivized to think of all the clients and what’s best for them versus just the clients that they either are point on or brought in to the company. We also have been working together for so long that we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can play off them to maximize what’s best for each client. Also, as an added bonus, the work environment is very collaborative and not competitive which suits all of us.
S&S: You are one of the few prominent management companies that still accept unsolicited screenplays via your website. How many submission requests do you get per week from the website and of the submission queries, how many screenplays would you say you actually request to read the full script? Do you have any recent success signings from the website submission form?
ZT: I guess it’s not a surprise from my answer to how I got started in the business. I really believe that great writing can come from anywhere and it’s how I started my career as a manager. Every client I found when I first started was through our site. I think we get between 50-100 submission requests per week on average and we probably request to read 5% of those. We have signed a couple of writers from our site and are in the process of developing their material. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack but for us, it’s important to keep looking for that needle.
S&S: Other than an amazing logline, what makes a great query letter/email?
ZT: I think a good query letter tends to stand out from the rest. May have a good sense of humor but also it doesn’t feel like it was copy and pasted and sent to 100 other companies. I delete the ones that are sent to me that look as if they’ve been sent to everyone else almost without reading them. Get to know the company you are submitting to and try and target them specifically.
S&S: Is it inappropriate for a writer to query multiple managers or agents at the same company? How long should a writer wait to hear back regarding a query before contacting another rep at the same firm?
ZT: I can only speak for Magnet but it’s definitely frowned upon. If you submit through our website and don’t hear back then we didn’t want to read the script. You can feel free to resubmit at another time but it will most likely garner the same response. In terms of general queries, I would suggest submitting to one person at the company and if you don’t get a response move on to the next company or come back to a different person with a different project the next time.
S&S: It is often said that writers should submit to managers who have clients that write in a similar genre, so they have a taste or sensibility that is more likely to match what the writer writes. Do you agree with this philosophy? What genres or types of films do you respond to the most? What kind of material are you actively looking for?
ZT: This is another advantage to us sharing every client. We look for all genres and even though I personally don’t love war/period pieces, others at Magnet do. We look for great writing. The interesting question would be, “Well how can you tell great writing from just a logline?” The answer is we can’t but we can tell how you think. If you are able to summarize your project in under 200 characters into a compelling idea that we want to read then chances are that you might have some skills as a writer that we would be interested in checking out. There’s always the risk that we are missing out on a great voice or script because we didn’t love the logline and I’m 100% sure that has happened. But we have to have a weeding out process and our time is better spent working with the clients that we already represent.
S&S: Other than being a talented writer, what do you look for in potential clients? What skills or personality traits would you say successful screenwriters possess?
ZT: I would say determination is a huge one. It’s important for the writer to go out and make connections and opportunities for themselves and not just depend solely on his/her agents/managers. Also, a huge quality that we look for is someone who loves to write. They are writing whether or not anyone is going to ever read their material. It’s who they are. It’s what they do.
S&S: What are some of the things you do to break a new writer client?
ZT: Unfortunately, it’s gotten harder and harder to do this these days. The formula is still the same for us though. We work with the writer to get their material in the best possible shape before introducing to producers/agents/execs. A great script still stands out and can generate buzz. Sometimes the script we signed the writer off of isn’t something that we think we can sell but we can still send to folks as a sample to get people excited all the while working with the writer on the next idea that we do think we can sell. We encourage our writers to always come up with a list of new loglines and not to censor themselves too much. Sometimes the nugget of an idea they don’t think has any merit is the exact idea that can spark a bigger idea with more eyes looking at it.
S&S: Is it harder to break a new feature screenwriter or a new TV writer and why?
ZT: It comes down to having a great script/sample/voice in either feature or TV and it’s difficult in both. If I had to choose, I would say it’s harder in Features but I’m sure our TV manager here would disagree with me. Haha
S&S: What should a writer be looking for in a good manager? What makes a good writer/manager relationship? Other than writing of course, what kind of expectations do managers have of their clients?
ZT: I think a writer should have a sense of comfort with the manager or management company. In a perfect world, this is going to be a long lasting relationship over the course of your whole career and you want to build a real strong foundation of trust and honesty. Ideally their manager will have a good reputation around town and will be taken seriously when they approach producers and buyers with their material. At Magnet, we expect our clients to always be writing and thinking of ideas as I discussed in previous answers. I feel like the key to success these days is to have as many bullets in the gun as possible, as many balls in the air as you can, while still being strategic. You want to give yourself the best chance of success which is why we encourage all of our writers to do both television and features.
S&S: So many managers today are also attached to their client’s projects as producers. You have previously said that you like to keep the management side and production side separate, kind of a “Chinese Wall”, to avoid any potential conflict of interests. In fact, on the FAQ on the Magnet Management website, you state that your philosophy on producing is to “always put our client’s best interest first.” Can you elaborate on this?
ZT: We have never gotten in the way of any deal for our clients to pursue our own producing agenda. Many times we have actually stepped aside if we felt there was an issue much to our detriment. We believe in the longer term play and that if the client’s career continues to rise and rise, eventually we will be able to bring an idea/book/article to them as producers and we do it together. We are always thinking of ideas and scouring for books and articles on the production side. When we are producing it’s either mutually agreed upon up front with us and the client or it’s something that we are bringing to the client.
S&S: Lastly, what kind of advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters or is there anything else you’d like to share?
ZT: Just keep writing and read as many of the scripts that sell as you possibly can. Try not to read them with a bitter/jealous eye and really try and understand why it sold in order to improve your craft and chances when it’s your turn!
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachTann76!
S&S: With the recent retirement of Jim Leyland, who do you feel would be the right choice to replace him as manager of your beloved Detroit Tigers?
ZT: Great question! I would go for one of the up and coming managers most likely who have a better understanding of Sabremetrics but also still believe in their gut. I’m not sure who that is but I would love to be a fly on the wall during those interviews. (FYI, Thrilled with Brad Ausmus)
S&S: On the Magnet Management website FAQ, you say that writers should not stop by your office with a box of cookies and hand deliver their script. Hypothetically speaking, if you were to sign a new client and he/she were to stop by your office with a baked goodie to say thank you, what kind of desert snack treats are your favorite?
ZT: Cookies amazingly! I love chocolate chip, butterscotch, oatmeal raisin, cinnamon sugar, and ginger snaps!