What Happens After Your Big Break?
It’s the stuff that dreams are made of. Landing that first big Hollywood sale. Writing that magical screenplay that wins you an agent, a manager—headlines in all the trades. But is it the end of the rainbow or just the first big step on the long and twisted road to becoming a working writer? Seth Lochhead is finding that out one script at a time.
I first met Seth when he was a teenager, the good friend of our kind-of/sort-of next best thing to having your own kid, Stefan. Flash forward several years: I encounter Seth again as a student in the screenwriting programme at the Vancouver Film School where I was teaching part-time. In the Feature Writing Class, I was to oversee Seth’s first script from treatment through first draft.
When I first read Seth’s work, I was impressed by two distinctive traits: he had a visceral style of expressing himself on the page, and a very dark, perverse sensibility that made his work shockingly original. The script I worked through with him over several weeks was called Hanna.
Hanna tells the globetrotting tale of a 14-year-old girl raised in the deep backwoods of Sweden by her father, a former intelligence agent. There, in total isolation, he teaches Hanna everything she needs know to survive—and to kill without mercy. Everything but how to be a human being. When a deadly SWAT team descends on their lonely cabin, a bloodbath ensues and Hanna and her father are captured by the hit squad, who work for the head of a covert American agency headed by Hanna’s mother. From there, the story follows the deadly child as she evades capture while discovering the mysteries of the human heart. But is she truly finding her humanity or the ability to project it? When Hanna finally meets her mother, will she kill her or embrace her? It’s a BOURNE-like adventure told as the worst custody battle in history—sort of the reverse of Luc Besson’s LEON (1994).
“This wasn’t an easy film for the masses to swallow, so the boys at Circle decided to leak it slowly. This all took about two months as awareness of the script was building.”
Rich in character, action and unpredictable exploits, it was a great first script. I was equally impressed by Seth’s willingness to work tirelessly on honing and shaping his ideas. Though I have been slogging away in the business since the Paleozoic Era (primarily in the meat-and-potatoes world of television), I have never broken into the feature world in the way Seth has. His experience has been thrilling and informative to follow as he masters both his craftsmanship and the convoluted Hollywood system. It’s fun to hear him talk about which possible offers have “traction”, or about his “primary agent” at the William Morris agency. Though most writers would let this go to their heads, Seth remains a grounded, hard-working writer dedicated to his love of writing.
After graduation from VFS, Seth did what most writers do: he sent out two to three hundred query e-mails in hopes that someone would be willing to read his work and take him on as a client. He received only seven or eight responses. One came from Circle of Confusion, a boutique-sized management company, who represents the Wachowski Brothers (THE MATRIX, SPEED RACER) among other heavyweights.
After manager Kemper Donovan agreed to read his work, Seth sent him bi-weekly e-mails to follow up. Once he read Seth’s spec, Donovan was blown away. According to Donovan, he found the “leanness” of Seth’s writing style both powerful and evocative. “He called me back with one of the partners and they pitched me on how they would work for me as managers. They said it was unlikely it would ever sell, but it was such a strong sample, it could get me some assignments. This wasn’t an easy film for the masses to swallow, so the boys at Circle decided to leak it slowly. This all took about two months as awareness of the script was building. Ultimately there was a bidding situation between (UK-based) Focus Features and an American company, but I decided to go with Focus. Focus had to decide which direction to take the script—they have two distinctive companies (Focus Features and Rogue Pictures) They had to decide if they wanted the script to be developed for the genre market or the art-house world. I had to pitch them to convince them it was an art-house script.”