Interview with literary manager and producer Michelle Knudsen of MXN Entertainment.
Kevin Fukunaga (Scripts & Scribes): You’re Ivy League educated, graduating from Columbia University. What did you study in college and what career path did you initially see yourself in?
Michelle Knudsen: English major. I wanted to be a journalist. But when i graduated college, journalism was entering into a transition phase from print to online, and the early days of this were a little scary. The outlook at the time for an aspiring journalist was grim.
Kevin: How did you get your start in the entertainment industry and what inspired you to want to work in Hollywood?
Michelle: Tied with journalism, I always wanted to work in movies. But journalism seemed more feasible. I had no idea how to get into Hollywood. I really lucked into my first job. One of my best friends from Columbia had an assistant job at The Gersh Agency and he was leaving. He needed to find his replacement. He essentially called me one day and told me, ‘I think this is the job you want’. And I went in the next day and was hired on Sarah Self’s desk.
Kevin: Once a screenwriter has finished his/her first screenplay, what would you tell them the next step is?
Michelle: Get as many friends to read it as possible. Be receptive to notes. And then aim to get your script into the hands of a manager.
Kevin: How valuable is a “recommend” from a reputable coverage service or other industry source and should a writer even mention it in a query? From what sources would you consider strong coverage to carry weight and possibly illicit a read request? Does a “consider” rating hold any value at all?
Michelle: Somewhat valuable. But it’s not really why I’ll read a script. It’s all about the logline.
Kevin: How does a writer know they are ready for representation? If they are ready, what advice would you give them as they begin their search?
Michelle: If they have a great script or a great piece of material (a play maybe) that demonstrates a new and distinct voice, then that person could be ready for representation.
Kevin: We frequently hear that reps look for a strong “voice” when reading a script. I know it can be difficult to quantify and explain what that means, but it is a question we get asked a lot. Can you explain, in a general sense, what it means when a writer has a strong “voice”? How does that translate to their screenplay?
Michelle: Good writing coupled with a strong point of view, writing that makes me feel something unexpected or think something unexpected.
Kevin: What is a common misconception about becoming a paid, professional screenwriter?
Michelle: I think a lot of writers think that getting assignments is the way forward in this business. That’s not my experience, and I think a lot of reps would agree. The way forward is to always be writing original material. If you happen to get some assignments, that’s great. They pay the bills. But it’s hard to build longevity in this business without creating your own good material that you control.
Kevin: Does a writer need to be in Los Angeles to have a screenwriting career? How does television differ in that aspect compared with writers interested in writing features?
Michelle: Feature writers do not have to be in LA necessarily. At a certain point it does become beneficial but it’s possible to sustain a career with occasional visits to LA. TV is different. You have to be in LA. NY is possible but there are far fewer jobs in NY than in LA.
Kevin: What are a few things that you wish all newer writers knew about screenwriting – the craft and/or the profession?
Michelle: Honestly, never stop writing. The best writers write a lot. Secondly, find the kind of writing you’re good at and focus on it until you’re great and you write a great script. There is no benefit in being a jack of all trades if you’re only average at all the genres. When a young writer tell me they have a horror script, a comedy and an action-thriller, I don’t get excited.
Kevin: 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?
Michelle: You have to like your manager enough to be able to talk to them a lot. Also, you need to believe that they understand you and what you want to do in your career. Part of my job is to make sure they’re always writing or working towards something.
Kevin: When you’re not spending your days breaking new writers’ careers, how do you like to spend your free time?
Michelle: Reading, cooking, planning my next trip abroad.
Michelle Knudsen is a manager and producer at MXN Entertainment. After graduating from Columbia University she got her start working for agent Sarah Self at Gersh NY before moving with Sarah to LA. She then went to work for manager/producer Mason Novick, jumping immediately into production on 500 DAYS OF SUMMER. Since then she has established herself as a manager of feature and TV writers. Along with producer Mason Novick, Michelle currently has a slate of feature and TV projects at various stages of development.
Check out Michelle’s credits on IMDb.Find us here: