Kevin Fukunaga (Scripts & Scribes): What started your initial interest in a career in entertainment and what was your first job in the industry?
Mary Cybriwsky: I’ve always loved how film, TV, music, books and all type of media make you feel something you didn’t before – it can be take you out of your world or teach you more about it. My first job in the industry was as an intern – reading scripts, getting coffee and stuffing envelopes for a small production company in New York City, then I interned in Los Angeles delivering holiday presents for Mosaic Media Group where I was then hired.
Kevin: How did you get your start in management and how did you decide to team up with your partner Frankie Lindquist?
Mary: Frankie and I both worked at Atlas Entertainment. From the moment we met, I knew we would do something together and once we both left Atlas, at the advice of our former boss, we started developing a project together written by with what turned out to be our first client. Frankie and I compliment each other well, and we trust in and believe in each other – I think that’s what’s kept the company going for more than 4 years now.
Kevin: As a manger and producer with two films currently in post-production, how do you divide your time between managing your current clients and your responsibilities on the various projects you’re working on?
Mary: Not to mention our fledgling mental health philanthropic foundation and (shock!) having our own lives! :) I’ll admit, work is a bit of a juggling act – but luckily there are two of us. We prioritize what needs to be done first and make sure our goals are clear. Sometimes I think we could use 14 arms (and one day we will expand to add more bodies!), but right now the trick is to have a good partner who you can trust with the things you can’t handle, and then on your own, be super organized and think on your feet!
Kevin: For aspiring screenwriters getting that elusive referral can be difficult. Can you explain why referrals are so important and make such a difference in terms of getting read around town?
Mary: There are so many writers and directors trying to get into this industry, and although I think everyone deserves a chance (and I’d love to give everyone theirs), I simply do not have the bandwith to do so. To me a referral is kind of like a quality control sticker – someone I know who knows the industry, or at least with whom I have some commonality in taste, has read the potential client and liked them. While there is a chance you’ll get read with a random query, your chances are infinitely higher if someone refers you. Plus it shows me that you’re working your network, an invaluable skill in this industry.
Kevin: What would you say is the most frequent problem with query letters/emails you get?
Mary: Some query letters are too long – they should be less than 5 sentences. Who you are, what you want, the logline and a thank you. I do appreciate the jokes sand personalization, but I only have so much time to go through all my emails so I usually just skim to the logline if a letter is too long. I’d also be wary of coming across too form letter-y – make me feel special, but keep it short. Also don’t be pushy! :)
Kevin: How many screenplays would you say you read in the average week? What’s one thing you see frequently in newer writers’ screenplays that you wish you didn’t?
Mary: How many scripts I read differs from week to week, could be 3,10, 20 – depends on what needs priority. A common mistake that I see in newer writers’ screenplays is very heavy handed description – it should briefly describe the scene and hint at the tone. If we don’t need to know that the character is wearing a red shirt as part of the story, it shouldn’t be in the description. Scripts are fast reads – only tell me what I need to know and let the director, production designer, etc do their jobs if you’re lucky enough to have your script produced.
Kevin: Which screenplay competitions do you follow? How noteworthy is winning awards or being a finalist at any of these competitions for you?
Mary: I really like the Nicholls – I also look at the BlackList, InkTip, the Blood List, Stage 32/Happy Writers, and a few others. Getting recognized by one of these is the same as getting a referral to me, someone else vetted the material out of a huge pile. Even though I don’t know the reader in this case, I have to believe that the writing competitions have competent people reading for them (I’ve read for some!). However, I might read something that won a competition and pass on it because, ultimately, I make decisions on personal taste –- I simply cannot put any amount of work into something that I’m not passionate about, and I would hope writers would want whoever is representing their work to have that same attitude.
Kevin: What is the division of labor between you and Frankie at Scooty Woop? Do you share clients or do you each have your own separate client lists?
Mary: The clients, the projects, the highs and the lows, Frankie and I share 50/50 –– we separate who does what work so that it gets done efficiently, but we know each other pretty well and consult with each other constantly. We’ve always thought that having both our heads in everything, arguing certain script points or how to handle business decisions, makes for, if nothing else, a more informed decision and it’s worked out pretty well so far. Not to be cheesy, but she’s the Scooty and I’m the Woop, and without both of us the company wouldn’t be what it is. :)
Kevin: Is your taste in material similar to Frankie’s or very different? Do you have any genres or types of projects that you especially love or hate?
Mary: It’s funny cause Frankie and I are very different but people often think we’re twins, and I’d say that same principal applies when it comes to our taste in projects. We both have our favorites genres and those can sometimes be polar opposites, but we have a rule that both of us have to agree on something before the company gets involved and somehow we’ve managed to agree on quite a few! We’re both attracted to stories with heart, regardless of genre, and then, we both choose stories for “why” they should be made, not just because we personally like them. We love stories with great characters that are relateable with a unique perspective – we look for projects that appeal to the heart that will move the audience, whether that’s to laughter with comedy, to tears with drama, or terror with horror.
Kevin: Other than being a great writer, what traits, skills or habits do successful screenwriters have?
Mary: When Frankie and I first started SWE, a successful manager that we used to work with shared his secret – what he called “the full package.” We took his advice to heart and have been applying it to our client search since then – basically clients should not only be great writers/directors, but they must have the passion and the drive to continue fighting to achieve their goals. Also they should be able to hold their own in a room – Hollywood is a social town – so clients should network and have their own contacts within the industry. New writers often think that once they have representation their job is done, when in fact it’s just the opposite – once you get representation, you better be prepared to work even harder – creating content and elevating the content you create, networking, finding ways to market yourself differently, researching projects that are out there and what you can write that will fill a need, etc. The full package will challenge me to work harder (without being pushy) because they’re working for themselves, and they also respect what Frankie and I do. We don’t work for each other, we’re a team.
Kevin: When you’re not being all manager-y, taking meetings and selling specs, how do you spend your free time – assuming you have any?
Mary: Ha, yea free time – it’s pretty much all merged into work by now. I used to read books for fun and now I enjoy reading scripts – it may be work but I love the thrill of finding a good story. I also like eating amazing food, being outside, watching TV and movies, listening to music and singing extremely loudly.
Kevin: Lastly, what kind of advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters or is there anything else you’d like to share?
Mary: Write with your heart – if your passion doesn’t come through in your writing, I’m 99% sure your script isn’t going to read as well. Good luck and keep your chip up!
Kevin: If you were producing a film about Mary Todd Lincoln, who would play the title role: Mary-Louise Parker, Mary Steenburgen or Mary Kate-Olsen?
Mary: I would love to work with all of them but I guess it depends on what type of character Mary Todd Lincoln is in this incarnation. If I had to choose without knowing more about the script, I’ve been a fan of Mary-Louise Parker’s since “The Client.”
Kevin: If you had to run in a potato sack race with one fellow Syracuse alum, who would it be and why: New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, fashion designer Betsey Johnson or CNN correspondent Jeanne Moos?
Mary: Tough choice cause Carmelo has the athleticism, Jeanne Moos would make us a piece of news, but I’ll go with Betsey Johnson. Regardless of if we’d win or lose, it’d be colorful and fun.
Kevin: Your favorite Woop: Australian winemaker Woop Woop, Florida based rap artist Woop or the 1997 Adventure Comedy film Welcome to Woop Woop?
Mary: Sadly I’m not familiar with these! But I’ve always wanted to go to Australia and let’s not mention my love of wine, so Woop Woop it is! Cheers!
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