Today guest is author, publisher, and producer Ken Atchity. Ken recently produced the global blockbuster (Jason Statham) and is the founder of Story Merchant. Ken wrote the best-seller Sell Your Story to Hollywood: Writer’s Pocket Guide to the Business of Show Business. I wanted Ken on the show to discuss the business side of screenwriting, a part of the industry that isn’t spoken about enough. We also discuss the “story market.”
Here some background on Ken.
In 1976, Atchity founded L/A House, Inc., a consulting, translation, book, television, and film development and production company whose clients included the Getty Museum and the US Postal Service. L/A House began by extending Atchity’s teaching of creative writing to manuscript consultation and soon moved on to publishing with the production of Follies, a magazine covering creativity, and CQ: Contemporary Quarterly; Poetry and Art of which he was editor. In the 1980s L/A House moved into television, with a syndicated television pilot of BreakThrough! of which Atchity was executive producer and co-writer.
In 1985, L/A House began development of a set of video/TV romance film projects entitled Shades of Love, which became 16 full-length films, produced in 1986–87 with Atchity as executive producer, that aired throughout the world, distributed by Lorimar, Astral-Bellevue-Pathe, Manson International, and Warner Brothers International, nominated for Canada’s Gemini Award; in the U.S. they premiered on Cinemax-HBO.
In 1989 he sold L/A House and founded AEI (Atchity Editorial/Entertainment International), a literary management and motion picture production company. Atchity sold Steve Alten’s Meg to Bantam-Doubleday at auction in a $2.2M deal; and then to Disney, partnered with Zide-Perry, for $1.2 (later, to Newline Pictures for a similar price). Incorporated in 1996, its name was changed to Atchity Entertainment International, Inc. in 2005.
In 2006, he and manager-partner Fred Griffin of Houston’s Griffin Partners along with a group of investors from Louisiana and Texas, acquired The Louisiana Wave Studio, LLC in Shreveport, Louisiana from Walt Disney Productions. The LWS is the only tank specifically designed to make waves for motion pictures in North America. Films produced at the LWS include The Guardian, Mayday—Bering Sea, Shark Night 3D, Streets of Blood, and I Love You, Philip Morris; along with numerous government and industrial films.
In 2011 Atchity was nominated for an Emmy for producing The Kennedy Detail (Discovery) based on their clients’ Jerry Blaine and Lisa McCubbin’s New York Times bestselling book by the same title published by Gallery/Simon & Schuster in 2010. AEI’s films include Joe Somebody (Tim Allen, Julie Bowen), Life Or Something Like It (Angelina Jolie, Edward Burns), and The MEG (Jason Statham).
In 2010, Atchity also founded Atchity Productions and Story Merchant.
Enjoy my conversation with Ken Atchity.
Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome Ken Atchity, man, how you doing, sir?
Ken Atchity 2:55
Good. How are you doing? Very good. Nice to be with you.
Alex Ferrari 2:58
I appreciate it. Thank you so much for being on the show. I truly appreciate it. I know you're a busy man. So thank you for taking the time.
Ken Atchity 3:04
Alex Ferrari 3:06
So before we get started, how did you get started in the business?
Ken Atchity 3:10
Well, in show business, I got started because I was a professor, working with stories, analyzing stories and helping people construct stories and of course, writing my own stories. And I just decided that I wanted to be on the other side of the coin, so to speak, I didn't want to be on the critical side, I wanted to be on the, you know, the making side, and get stories out to the world both in publishing and in film, and television. So I came up with an idea that ended up being 16 movies. And the rest was history. I just went on from there.
Alex Ferrari 3:47
Very cool. Now, in Europe, you you obviously focus a lot on story. What makes a good story, in your opinion?
Ken Atchity 3:57
Well, what makes a good story is is the reader or the audience not being able to forget the story? I mean, that's the ultimate test of a great story, I think, and that it really changes their lives in some way. Either. It really entertains them or It teaches them or shows them something memorable, that they have a hard time forgetting. To me that's the main, you know, the main symptom of a good story.
Alex Ferrari 4:23
Is that focusing more on plot on you know, the structure, is that talking about character, or is it a combination, like what are some of the elements?
Ken Atchity 4:31
Oh, it's a combination, but but the primary thing is character. Okay, so creating an unforgettable character. One of the signs of that is that, that people will start telling you things about the story that didn't even happen in the story. Because they, they they got the characters so well that they have yet you know, imagine the character in other settings. So I think the number one important thing is a good character, what we call the protagonist, who is the first actor in the story and who makes the story happen based on a need of theirs, and then has to go out and somehow battle against an antagonist, you know, obstacles to that need and accomplish it or tragically not being able to accomplish it by the end of the story. In your opinion, what
Alex Ferrari 5:19
does make a good a good protagonist?
Ken Atchity 5:22
Well, generally speaking, it's it's a flawed human being, it's somebody that we can immediately relate to, because of some problem that they're having. One of my favorite examples is lethal weapon. You know, Revell, Gibson, being a homicidal, you know, homicide detectives and as suicidal homicide detective, that's kind of hard to forget. So in the one of the opening scenes, he's actually playing Russian roulette, as he wakes up in the morning, and skwiggs, a cold beer has been, you know, puts the gun to his head. But it you know, he, he's, he's survived that day and goes on to another day, but you immediately can't forget him, he a guy who goes out and does his duty, despite the fact that he wants to kill himself, because his wife had been recently killed, etc. So, I mean, there are all kinds of memorable characters like Rain Man, and, you know, Silver Linings Playbook. You just go from one to the other, but it's usually the characters that you remember.
Alex Ferrari 6:29
Yeah, I never, I mean, there are obviously very good plots, you know, I remember, you know, Usual Suspects being you know, has the plot was so amazing. But generally speaking, it is character that drives like, that's what you really connect to, because they're the human beings that you're connecting to, that's something you can actually hold on to correct,
Ken Atchity 6:47
right. And one of the observations that you have in the in the film business is that the character is great. The plot is replaceable, so that that's what leads you i i specialized recently, in selling book lines line, you know, books, that my clients have written several on the same characters, and making them into series. So we're heavily involved in setting up series, and what buyers in Hollywood are trying to buy is they're trying to buy the characters, you know, they, they buy the characters, and they can go on making movies or episodes about those characters, without reference to the plots that the original author came up with. Sometimes they use this plot, sometimes, the writers, you know, the television writers, or film writers just make up their own plots to go with that character. Are you?
Alex Ferrari 7:38
Are you um, when you're consulting your clients now? Are you recommending that they if you're writing a book, let's say that you're, you're not just writing one book that you're writing series of books based off the same character, kind of like a Sherlock Holmes, or, you know, or, you know, jack Ryan or something like that?
Ken Atchity 7:55
Yeah, I mean, I, I end up doing that, because I kind of have the ultimate home run from a financial point of view for a writer is to sell a television series. And so one of my writers took the train in to see me the other day, and we sat there at lunch. And he, he done two novels already that were pretty good. And I told him, you should start thinking about, you know, writing another novel using the same character. And I did that a couple of years ago with another writer, Texan. And he's now written three books with the same character that caught my attention. And I took it out to a pitch meeting with a major producer a few weeks ago, and I could pitch it in two sentences. And the minute he heard about the character, he said, that's an obvious series. Let's Let's do it. So we're partnered on on the series, just because he heard about the character and the world the character finds himself in. So that's obviously a good reason to write more than one novel on the same character, not to mention the fact that you're much more likely to sell multiple copies of your novel, if you have several other novels that somebody can read with the same character.
Alex Ferrari 9:08
Yeah, I recently got, I was recently found the show called Bosch, which is a based on Michael Connelly's series of books. My grant it's so well done so well. And the character is, he's such an interest the Bosch character is so interesting, because he's he's a flawed human being. But yet he's not Indiana Jones. He's not Sherlock Holmes. He's not superhuman by any stretch. But yet you're just drawn in and if obviously, it's the actor, but the character itself and the world that that Michael created. It is fascinating. I'm seeing that because of all the streaming series and there's so much opportunity for filmmakers and for and for writers out there now. I mean, we are pretty much in the gold rush of story at this time.
Ken Atchity 9:54
Yeah. Would you agree? Absolutely. I mean, look at Breaking Bad and and look there and you know, the escaped from Connemara you know, limited series, but it's the characters that that draw you into it. You know they the plot. isn't that important. I mean, if you think about Bosh, like how many plots Can you remember right away?
Alex Ferrari 10:17
It takes me a minute it takes me a minute to, like, I have to go back to season one he had to do this season three, he had to do that. But it's Sparsh. It's like Indiana Jones, like you know, you know, it's it's it's James Bond, like how you know, how many plots of James Bond Do you remember? But you boy, you remember James Bond pretty clearly.
Ken Atchity 10:35
Yeah, exactly. And, and sometimes to show Hill, how the plot is harder to remember, they'll put the plot in the title, you know, the temple of Dune or Raiders of the Lost Ark, just in case you you forget, because you're not gonna forget Indiana Jones, for James Bond. So you think, you know, call his books after his villains? Because they're the ones you have to think about to remember Goldfinger and, you know, Dr. Know, etc, right. But you don't need to be reminded about James Bond. That's why you're reading the book or watching the movie.
Alex Ferrari 11:07
So in today's world, that we have such a huge opportunity for writers to be able to put, you know, write content, create content, do you recommend instead of going after possibly a screenplay, which is a one off to actually focus on series to focus on limited series? Is that where the marketplace is kind of leaning now? Because there's just so much need and want for original content? Now? Is that a smart move as a writer?
Ken Atchity 11:36
Yeah, it's definitely a smart move. It's, it's a little more difficult move. But it's a smart move, because we have so many channels demanding programming, that it's hugely competitive, mean, new, you know, broadcasters are born every year, whether it's Hulu and Apple recently, or Amazon and Netflix, the generation before, or you know, in the old days, the HBO and Showtime and even older days, the network's that they're all competing for, you know, stories and series, one of the big decisions we have to make when we go out with a series is whether it should be a network series or cable series. Because of the difference in content, obviously. But But clearly, that's it's not only it's not only easier to sell a series in this demanding market, but it's also it's also the smarter way to go because, honestly, the smartest writers and the best writers of all gravitated to television, television, you know, years ago, 1520 years ago was regarded as kind of a wasteland of no man's land. And it was very hard for us feature a feature writer to even want to go into television. And now it's just normal that television is dying for feature writers and rating feature writers. And more importantly, the feature writers are starting to write original stuff for television, because it's so difficult to set up a movie. By comparison, movies are still being made and huge numbers are being made, but not by the studios. The studios are limiting what they do to four or five movies a year where they used to do 30 or 40. And so the explosion of growth there is an independent films, but an independent film can have a very long road to production, because of the uncertainty of financing and the distributors reluctance to actually put them in theaters compared to the big blockbuster from, you know, Disney or from Warner Brothers. So all together television is a much friendlier and smarter environment. For writers I think to to aspire to.
Alex Ferrari 13:47
Do you agree with what Spielberg said about the implosion of Hollywood where this this whole new Hollywood the studio's to some specifically, which is just blockbuster after blockbuster after blockbuster that eventually one of these is going to pop that we're there's going to be a studio that's not going to be able to take a $500 million hit. And they're just going to go under and it's going to be kind of like this bubble that's gonna pop eventually do agree with that. Because I mean, it is riskier and riskier and riskier as I mean, we're talking about I remember when Titanic came out, and everyone's like, $200 million budget, everyone was like, insane. Everyone. $100 million budget was a lot of money. Now. Now we're talking 300 $350 million budgets, and plus marketing. So we're talking half a billion dollars to make a billion and a half dollars. What do you I just a curiosity just from from your perspective?
Ken Atchity 14:37
Well, it's complicated if he were, you know, if he were talking strictly about moviemaking. It would be easy to agree with that. But the truth is, studios don't make most of their money from movie making a studio, head of the studio head, somebody lunch with him one day and he said don't don't ever accuse me of being a filmmaker. I am a toy salesman. Makes films to advertise my toys. And most of the money that's made by any of the big studios is in merchandising. And so hopefully, if they have a $300 million bus, they'll be making it up from, you know, the $500 million they're making on another movie, or even on the merchandising from the failed movie, because there's no end to it. And, and plus, the studios are generally owned by international conglomerates. And those conglomerates are heavily invested in real estate. You know, the suit, one of the reasons they buy, the studio is for its real estate. And so I don't quite agree with him that that's going to happen easily. But it certainly could happen if a studio made three bad judgments a year. And all three were upside down. It would be difficult for them to survive it. And they do though. I mean, they do. Paramount has survived that several times. And you know, it's sad. I mean, DreamWorks has not really quite survived it. So they end up being more or less part of, you know, universal and that's basically the fate of studios has been acquired by another studio as Fox was just acquired by Disney, which still blows my mind. Fox was such a distinctive studio. And so is Disney the fact that they're all now in way the same conglomerate. It's just very upsetting and weird. It just, you know, narrows the number of places I can sell the movies, you know, my clients movies?
Alex Ferrari 16:30
Yeah, with without question and yeah, it's it's a weird world that we're living in. I think they're the the amount of stories that are being told. The channels are smaller at the big at the highest levels. It used to be many more studios, many more things. But I think we could thank George Lucas for all this merchandise, because he was basically the first one to really to do it, honestly. I mean, they didn't merchandising prior to George Lucas, but no one's done it as good as he has. From that point.
Ken Atchity 17:03
Yeah, I think no one kind of focused on it the way he did, from the very beginning. He was he recognized the value of the merchandising, in fact, you know, the story is that that fox, who financed Star Wars wasn't as interested in the merchandising as they were in the movie. I'm not sure that story is true or not, but it's, it is a legendary story. Yes, it is. And now, you know, now the Disney has acquired the franchise, you know, they're very careful to continue the toys, because that's where Walt Disney made all of his money is, you know, from Mickey Mouse t shirts, and Mickey Mouse dolls and all those other characters sitting on the shelves, like like they are in the background of, of your office there.
Alex Ferrari 17:54
Yes, my Yoda. All that good stuff. Right. Now, can you discuss a few pitfalls to watch out for on the business side of storytelling? Because I think storytellers are artists, we're, you know, filmmakers, we're just artists, we don't want to think about business or, you know, a distribution or a month, let somebody else deal with that. What are some pitfalls that we should look at in this new world that we're walking into? And that we're in currently, but I think that the the, the, the two avenues between business show and business are really starting to cross a lot more than before. So are there any pitfalls that you can kind of help help us watch out for?
Ken Atchity 18:35
Yeah, my, my second last book was called, you know, sell your story to Hollywood writers handbook to the business of show business. And I always tell my clients that the more they know about business, the better, the better, they're going to be in terms of being in this business and making a living out of it. And people, like you said, they're not that they're not that interested in the business part of it. But to me, the most upsetting situation for a writer that they should be looking out for is what's called reversion. And that means that you sell your story, you get some money up front, which is option payment, you even may get the right payment that occurs on the day of principal photography. But if something happens, three weeks into that, and the movie never gets finished, never gets shot. Your movie, your story, which was brilliant enough to get somebody to invest a lot of money in it, and to raise money for it is suddenly in limbo. And I can't tell you how many wonderful stories I've sold in the past that are in limbo and are likely to stay there. There's one in particular that a new finance group approached me a few months ago and said, we want to make this movie. We almost almost made it 10 years ago, if you'll recall. And yes, I do recall because we sold it to a distributor, and now it's in what's called turnaround, which means the distributor has its its claws on the story. They will not release it to another financer without the financer pain, not only how much money that studio had put into it, but also 10% interest a year, since then. So it ends up being a ton of money, like 50 times the amount of money that they actually spent on it, because of the interest. And, and that story basically is, you know, can be gone forever, and this Limbo state, and it's something to really look at to make sure that your attorney, your agent, your manager, has got a strong reversion clause that says something to the effect that if your movie is not made, within five years of of the, you know, the the data was contracted for, that it will revert free and clear to you, as opposed to go into turn around, where the studio can hold it up, you know, for for money. And God, we must have a dozen great stories in that situation. And it's, it's a huge thing to worry about. And of course, the other thing is to make sure that if you're a writer, especially over an animated film, that you are getting a true part of the back end of the story, meaning the profits of the movie, you know, they so rarely does that happen in Hollywood, that those points, as they're called, are referred to as monkey points, because I suppose only a monkey would believe that they're actually going to get those points. But if you have a really good attorney, there are things you can do to make sure that doesn't happen. And people don't really think about this on their first two or three deals. But after those deals, especially after something has happened, to show them what they might have made, have they had a better deal. You know, they'll they will get smarter about it. And we try to educate our writers, in fact, in that real fast Hollywood deal that we do. Online, it's a course on how to succeed in the business of show business, not just, you know, not not just the show part, but the business part. And people do I mean, obviously, people like Lucas and Spielberg have done pretty well for themselves, because they, they went to business school and learned the business part of it.
Alex Ferrari 22:20
Yeah, I was, I was told years ago when I was meeting with an agent that he's like, when I'm looking for a creative writer or director, I'm looking for three people, I'm looking for a politician. I'm looking for an artist, and I'm looking for a businessman. And Isn't that it? I think that was really great. It was a great window into what really is needed in this business. You know? And is this those three things? Because if you if you have just one of those, it won't work. You have to have all three, because a lot of people don't talk about the politics behind the seats. That's a whole other conversation.
Ken Atchity 22:59
Yeah, no, it is. Mostly it is 90% of the effort. It's dealing with the people dealing with the business. And honestly, when they say that creativity is you know, creative ideas are a dime a dozen. That isn't literally true, but maybe a quarter a dozen, you know, there are lots and lots of ideas, and they never make it to the screen unless you have those other qualities of business and, you know, political savvy, how to deal with people. Because you know, there's a there's a set of rules about how to operate in Hollywood and one of them is being a fun person to work with and stain off of everyone's life is to shortlist. It's a guy like that
Alex Ferrari 23:42
i like i like that term. Life. I've heard of the Life is too short. I've never heard it called that life is too short list.
Ken Atchity 23:49
And one of my books I I talk about it and what it takes to get on that list. And at a certain point, no matter how creative you are, and how brilliant your ideas are, nobody wants to hear from you. Right and
Alex Ferrari 23:59
even into some of these legendary directors and writers for that matter, that that are super talented, and they win Oscars and they make lots of money, but they're just horrible human beings, or horrible to work with the moment they stumble, it's over the the second they trip up, the second thing they stumble, it goes they never get to they never get back in. And but if you're a super nice guy, you know, like I use Ron Howard all the time, because Ron Howard is such an amazing filmmaker. And he's had he's had really strong bombs in his career, but he's also had really strong hits. But he's I heard so many good things about working with him.
Ken Atchity 24:41
Everybody likes him. You know, he returns people's phone calls. He's always nice. He doesn't show his the arrogance that he deserves. He doesn't act like it. You know, he's, he's humbled because whatever the reason is his character It was not destroyed by success and too often Success can destroy character. And I try to tell my writers that when they fail a few times that they're actually building character. So they'll do better. You know, in the long run,
Alex Ferrari 25:13
I call it trap milk. It's like you need a little shrapnel, you need a little scarring, you know, to toughen yourself up and to kind of go through this business.
Ken Atchity 25:21
Yeah, that's right. It's absolutely right. Now, can you can storytellers
Alex Ferrari 25:25
in today's world make a living with their stories? And if there is, what are some other ways that storytellers could make money with their business with their with their stories, besides just you know, trying to pitch a studio? Or you know, at the larger levels? Or do you have any advice on like what other writers could be doing to sell their stories or make money with their stories?
Ken Atchity 25:46
Well, of course, because of the Internet, and Amazon in particular, everyone can, you know, publish books that used to have to go through gatekeepers, mostly in New York to get to that point. And Hollywood is in love with books. So if you're going to try to sell a story to Hollywood, the best possible advice I can give you is to write it as a book first. And in the old days, hollywood used to insist that it be from a major publisher. But that's all changed in the last 20 years. And I discovered about 10 years ago that I was having a much harder time sell books, selling books to New York than I used to. I used to sell 30 or 40 books a year, and two, all the publishers, but then they were always, they were also bought up by the big conglomerates. So every major publisher of which they used to be about 50, they've now gotten down to about four. And those four have purchased the other 36 imprints and made them part of their, you know, they're big flags, because they're owned by herrschaft and Bertelsmann and Penguin, Putnam and so on. And as a result, they don't buy new voices the way they used to, they're not interested in unknown writers the way they used to be. So I got upset about that, because I didn't have as many books to take to my Hollywood lunches. And I decided about eight years ago now to start our own imprint, story, merchant books of which we now published over 300. And, and I set up a whole bunch of them as series and as movies, because they look like books, and they talk like books, and they sound like books. And so people go, I gotta read this, and I take the book to lunch with me, and they go home with it, and read it and call me in a few days and say they, they want to make it into a movie. So any any writer can do that they can put out, you know, go to to Amazon and print their books, or they can come to a company that helps them do that, like one of mine does. And that's a huge thing they can do. And, of course, they can also edit and help other writers and a lot of writers make a steady income by doing that. But there are more opportunities, I think, than ever before, to make a living as a writer.
Alex Ferrari 28:11
And do it in like, again, today's world that we have so much opportunity in the streaming space in the streaming space specifically, do you recommend that screenwriters begin to create their own video content to create a pilot or create instead of walking in with a just a pitch to walk in with a sizzle reel, or a scene or, or even a full blown pilot that they shot, you know, for 15 or 20? grand, you know, as a proof of concept? Or like in was it It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, that basically that's exactly what they did, they shot a pilot and then went off to do I think four or five seasons with that with that pilot with the same actors. I think even they just added a few more bigger names. So what do you think?
Ken Atchity 28:53
I think it's a visual medium. And if, if you know how to do it, then by all means, that's what you should be doing. Because that's what we're all looking for. We're looking for movies, you know, for moving pictures. And I have a client who kind of behind my backs. He was a business, not a business writer. And I had sold to his business books. And then out of the blue, he told me a couple of years ago, you know, I decided to make a dream of mine come true. I made a movie. And he he I couldn't believe it because he seemed like not the complete opposite of a guy who would make a movie, because he was a button down businessman. But he did make a movie and I saw it and now I'm helping him get a distributor for it. And he's also written a brilliant novel. And it took him years to get up the courage to do either one of them, but he's done them both and nothing's stopping you now me were the one thing about the creative world it is it's free. You're free to think outside the box and the boxes are not like they used to be ever since Jeff Bezos came along. The entire world has changed as much as it did when Gutenberg printing At the printing press or, you know, back in the old days, when someone invented writing to take over from the oral tradition, we're going to see through a sea change as big as either one of those not bigger. And where, whereas there used to be maybe 20,000 books published every year in the United States, it's now over a million books published every year. And a lot of them are horrible. A lot of them are really bad. But more than ever, a lot of them are good. And a lot of them are better than, you know, books that were published before. It's just the statistics, know, a lot of books means a lot of better books to, to you,
Alex Ferrari 30:41
can you talk a little bit about the need for marketing and understanding marketing branding, because you just said a million books are being published a year. So that's great. And it's great opportunity that our stories are getting out there. But because of the just the sheer number of amount of content, let's not even get into video content will take us 20 lifetimes to just watch what came out this week, alone. But on the book side, or just on the story side alone, without marketing, and this plays for both screenwriting, for for Novel Writing and filmmaking, the understanding of marketing and branding to get eyeballs on your book on your product on your story is more vital than ever before. And I think I find that even mediocre writers who understand marketing and branding go a lot farther than
Unknown Speaker 31:30
Alex Ferrari 31:30
who have no understanding about it.
Ken Atchity 31:32
Yes, that's absolutely true. And I wish I had your speech you just gave to, to show all of my my author clients who, whose books we publish, because I give them the same speech. And and I, you know, if they're not willing to market, they're not going to be the ones that are visible. I mean, the speech that I always give is that sales depends on marketing. And there is no direct relationship between marketing and sales, there is no magic formula. But one thing for sure, is that a book needs visibility of somebody, somebody's going to buy it, they've got to see it. And so visibility is directly related to sales, because in the absence of visibility, there will be no sales, you've got to make it visible. And the formula is, you know, some advertising agency agencies talk about his impressions. And they say that you need at least four or five impressions before somebody will think about buying your product. So that's why in the slick magazines, you see ads, you know, full page ads for BMW or air mace, or, you know, clothes a quick vote tequila, it's not because there's a direct relationship between you see a BMW ad and you run out and buy a BMW, it's because you have a lasting impression from seeing an expensive ad in these magazines. And that's number one. And then you see a billboard with a BMW on it, and then you watch one go by enviously, and then you you read about one on Facebook that somebody just bought. And by the time you get up to four or five, and you're needing a car, you're going to be tempted, you can't go to every showroom and look at every car. So chances are BMW is going to be up there in the, in the top, you know, whatever percentage of cars you look at. And same is true as a book, they say you need five impressions. So Amazon ads, Facebook ads, blog, site tours, making a, you know, making a trailer for your book, anything you can think of doing we have services that we offer authors to, and they're things that help you get reviews, one of the primary things on Amazon is getting at least 20 reviews. And once you've got 20 to go for, you know, go for 100 reviews, once you go for 100. You go for 501 of my novels has 400 reviews or something like that at this point. And that just means that the sales start getting serious. And they also say that, as I mentioned before, if you write three novels with the same character, and then you're much more likely to get a following, because when somebody looks at it, and they get intrigued, they think oh, and here's two others. So if I liked this one, I can come back and read a couple of others. People like to do that they like to binge read, just as I like to watch, you know, binge watch bush or other TV series. That's the way we're doing it. Now. If you feel like Madam Secretary, chances are you're going to wait until the whole season's available and, and sit there and watch them on a weekend. more likely than tuning in the same time every week. And doing that we're one of our big viewing changes is that we watch things on our own time as opposed to watching them on the network's time and I'm not sure how Much longer that commercial networks are going to last, given how much pressure we have on us for, you know, to use our time.
Alex Ferrari 35:09
Yeah, I'm noticing that too, because, you know, even, even with even with mainline shows, I mean, Netflix kind of ruined us with the bingeing situation at Amazon and everything else. So now, like, when you're watching a network show, you're just like, Ah, it's, I gotta wait a whole year or whatever season to watch this whole thing play out, it's annoying.
Ken Atchity 35:32
It's not to mention having to go through the commercials. I mean, it's, it's just unbelievably annoying. I mean, I've even got to the point where, you know, I, I like to, I like to watch the news a lot during the day. So I'll get up at you know, when I get up at five o'clock, and, and record, CNN, and I don't start watching it for a couple of hours. And that way, I can go through the commercials because I, I just don't have the patience to, you know, turn off the sound during every commercial and, and they're endless, you know, they seem like they last 1015 minutes, before you get another 10 minutes of content. So that way of watching is, I think not going to be around too many more years, I think we are going to be binge watching everything uninterruptedly. And of course, that means the economics of everything will change because the networks exist based on commercials You can't blame them for, for doing what they have to do to exist. But but the cables have done is come up with another financial pattern, you know, to keep them going.
Alex Ferrari 36:34
Now, one thing that we all do, as storytellers and as creatives, we always have to deal with something called rejection. How do you in your opinion, how do you deal with rejection?
Ken Atchity 36:45
Well, I just do so many things that I don't have time to stew about it. You know, it's like, if you're, you have that much out there. And I I've written about rejection many times and in many different books and blogs. And basically, rejection is not something you should spend an ounce of your emotional time on. Because it's, it is a category that is required for success. I mean, if you don't fail, and if you want to call rejection failure, if you don't fail, you're never going to succeed. Because everyone who's ever succeeded, has done it through failing or being rejected. Just imagine if you were selling, you know, vacuum sweepers from door to door, if you got discouraged and had to go out for to the local bar for a drink every time you got the door slammed in your face, you would you would quickly become an alcoholic and not sell very many vacuum sleepers, right. And so what's interesting is in the book business, they actually use the word rejection. But in the film business, they never use that word I don't think I've ever heard it, once. They they simply, if they say anything will say they're passing, more likely, they're gonna say, especially to me that the door is always open. This just isn't fit here, right now. We just got a rejection on a major series that we know we're going to sell. And it from a major company stars, who told us, we have to pass on this right now, if you understand. But please come back here after Christmas, after the holidays, if you haven't set it up. And the reason has to do with, you know, regime change and all kinds of things. It almost never has to do. Yeah, it never has to do rarely has to do with the story itself, assuming that you've got a good story. So you just have to get used to it. And I tell my clients that the best way to get used to it is be working on something else, all the time. So your objective toward the thing you worked on before. What you have control over is what you write, you have no control over the fate of what you've written. And you shouldn't waste any time thinking about that. You know, once you've gotten it into the hands of somebody who knows what they're doing to represent it, you should simply start you know, creating more stuff and get put together a whole gallery of things you've created.
Alex Ferrari 39:12
Yeah, I also there's there's an element with storytelling in general is being in the right place at the right time with the right product. And there's certain there's certain time periods that a certain story, it makes absolute sense that would never fly in today's world. I mean, I always use Blazing Saddles, will never get made it to taste. Many of Brooks's movies would never get in today's world. But like I had a film that I was pitching around town eight, nine years ago, which had a female lead, kind of like comic book II style movie. And everybody would say, Oh, you can't put a female as a leader and an action movie. That's insane. Why would you do something like that? So I was a little ahead of the curve. Regardless if my story is good or not. That's it, you know, but the point is just the concept of the constant thing I was saying I heard and there weren't many movies being made that had female leads where now, female lead action movies are not a big deal. I mean, depending on the type of movie it is, and, and so on and so forth. So I do I do believe that that there is a certain timing good place for certain stories. Have you run across that as well? Oh, yeah, I
Ken Atchity 40:19
I don't ever forget, I was walking down the street in New York one day. And I got a phone call from a publisher and said, I am so sorry to be getting back to you. What, three years later? It has, is that book still available? And I said, I think it is we have some interest in it. But I think it's available. And of course, it was not only available, but the author had forgotten it existed. And long story short, I ended up making a three book deal, you know, that day, and the author was flabbergasted because he had moved on to other things as I had advised him to do. But the story set, you know, its timeliness had just suddenly occurred. And recently, I sold a movie that was on up channel on a novel that we had been trying to sell for 20 years. And there just wasn't a market for it. And we finally sold it and it was on two years ago, it finally played 10 did very well. And you simply would never know that it had been waiting around for 20 years. Like the Meg was the Meg, the biggest movie of the last couple of years that I've done 540 million worldwide to date that was sold 22 years ago for the first time. And it was simply in limbo all those years, going from one studio over the other from one writer to the other, and finally got made and, you know, knocked out the box office as, as I predicted it would 22 years ago. And that that's just happens all the time, a story's time has come, or it hasn't come. You can't predict, you know, whether your overnight success will happen in 20 years or in, you know, overnight.
Alex Ferrari 42:07
Now, with the mag specifically though, I think 22 years ago, it would not be the same movie as they made today, technology was just a little bit more advanced today than it was 22 years ago.
Ken Atchity 42:18
In fact, I think that was a good thing for the movie. You know, we plus it was much less expensive than it might have been 22 years ago, because the technology was is so much more advanced. And you know that that's true. So it's, it's almost like every story has its own fate and its own God in charge of it. And you really have to let it go the way you want a child at a certain point and make its way in the world or not.
Alex Ferrari 42:45
Now with with the movie, the mag specifically for people who don't know the movie, the mag was it was basically kind of like a jaws. But with a prehistoric shark that was just the size of a skyscraper,
Ken Atchity 42:58
a prehistoric 70 foot long shark, as opposed to a 12 foot long shark or, you know, 20 foot long forest. So not only do you need a bigger boat, you need to have a bigger ocean port to deal with. And so that that was a story that led to I think we sold seven more mag books for Steve after the first one, and then another six or seven books that are not about mag. So he built a whole career out of it while waiting for the movie to get Finally, you know made.
Alex Ferrari 43:33
Is there going to be a secret?
Ken Atchity 43:35
Oh, yeah, they definitely will be a staple. Soon as the US Chinese financing situation gets, you know, settled down. Both sides living in complete uncertainty every moment. That's the only impediment there there is right now to the story.
Alex Ferrari 43:54
Now, you obviously have pitched many studios, because executives, you've yourself been a studio executive. Or you have been a studio executive, correct? Oh, no, no, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. So you have pitched many studio executives. How do you any advice any tips do you have to pitching a studio executive your story?
Ken Atchity 44:15
Well, that's a good good question. Because I teach pitching all the time. And pitching is extremely rare opportunity because you have to be in the room with a person, you know who can buy something. And that doesn't happen very often. That's why we write treatments and written pitches. Because you know, an oral pitch is is a chance and and I learned quickly as a literary manager that at least 50% of the time, writers are the last person you want to bring into the room to pitch their own stories, because they have a very bad habit that they go into a trance when they start pitching and that trance means that they may be very excited and But they're no longer in contact with the eyes of the buyer. And as a as a professional salesman who spent all my life selling buyers and rooms, that's all I care about is your eyes. But I'm trying to tell you a story. Because I can tell within a microsecond, when you've lost interest in the story. And if I keep pitching you, then not only have you lost interest, but it's going to be impossible to recover your interest. And you're creating a negative view of the story. And writers don't even see that because they're in a trance, you know, they're in their own creative trance. And I always tell them, I'm going to kick you under the table, when that happens, so that you can come back to consciousness and, you know, recognize what's going on. Because most pitches are long when they should be short. Most pitches go on for 20 minutes when they should be two minutes long. Because the way you really sell somebody in the room is you get their attention in those two minutes. And then you let them ask questions for the next 20 minutes, until they're invested in the story that they that they got intrigued by in the first two minutes. So it's a it's a real art to be pitching. And it's something that the more you think about it, the worse you're going to be. And I'll tell you one story, I know we have to wind down at some point. But I once took a writer, a brilliant novelist who's going on to write for television, to HBO to Michael Fuchs, his office who was the head of HBO in those days. And we in practice his pitch at Warner, which was the financier that partnered with me to take it in there. And we went in said, Hello, there was a few minutes of chitchat. And Michael says to him, let me let me hear the story. So this guy, despite every warning, reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a little packet of three by five cards. And Fuchs said, what, what is that? And he said, these are just my cards, you know, to prompt me and he said, Wait a minute, didn't you write this novel? And he said, Yes. He said, How long did it take you? He said, a couple of years, he said, You You worked on the story for two years, you wrote a novel, it became a best seller, and you have to use cards, get the fuck out of my office, sorry, get out of my office. And we left, we left the office, that was the end of that sale. And it taught me you know, an important thing. Every time I go to a writers conference and talk about pitching, I tell him, you know, when you come up here to pitch, you're not going to have paper in front of you, and you're not gonna have your computer, you know, computer screen open, you're just gonna look at me and tell me the story. And if you can't do that, and you're not ready to do the pitch, so come back next year. And you know, when you're ready when you know your story. So pitching is, it's got to be from the heart. It's like telling the story. Imagine, you know, you go to Thanksgiving, you sit down with your dreaded uncle, because every time he wants to tell a joke, he takes out some three by five cards, so he can read the joke to you. I mean, that that's exactly what you know, it is the danger of a writer pitching. Well, I'm a writer, I need words, words come from your heart, they don't come to your, you know, from your screen.
Alex Ferrari 48:22
Now, do you have any advice? Any advice for about protecting your work? There's so much rampid, you know, thievery, or, you know, people just stealing ideas? Is there anything you could tell the listeners? How to Protect help protect your work?
Ken Atchity 48:39
Sure. I mean, first of all, I don't agree at all that there is so much rampant stealing of ideas. Okay. I, I ran across that and 30 years in the business, maybe twice. Were in both cases, I'm almost sure it was totally unconscious and unintentional. Because people go, you know, executives go to hundreds of meetings, pitch meetings. And if an idea comes up two years later, in another meeting, or somebody's looking for an idea, even though they take notes during meetings and trying to keep it all straight, they might not. They might not remember this is where they heard it. But mostly I never see this. JOHN Gardner, who was one of my mentors, a famous novelist, said that he once had written a story about a giant Alligator, and never sold it. But then found out that a movie had just been made. So he snuck into the theater and watched the movie. And he said, I almost fell to my knees after the after the after the movie, thanking God, that my story had never been sold because I thought, let somebody else take the rap for this hideous idea. You know, but I keep moving so fast that people can't keep up with me and that's the way you protect yourself by moving fast. You know? Not worrying about it. On the other hand, if you have to have an answer to that, you There are two ways to do it, you go to the Writers Guild of America west.org, and you register it, register your story register, your treatment cannot register ideas. Or you go to the Library of Congress, copyright register, and a page and register register it there. Those are about the only two legal ways to protect your story. And they don't protect your story, by the way, any good attorney would want me to make point to sell, they protect your claim to have written the story. The truth is that American copyright, international copyright, except for China, immediately protects what you've written, the moment it's written, you already copyright it legally. But to register your copyright, you can go to the copyright office and register online. And that proves your claim that on this, you know, particular day, you claimed that you wrote the attached story. And that way, if it ever comes to court, you can show you registered this and the only one only way someone can beat you, in your claim is by showing a registered ID two years earlier. And that has happened. Some big lawsuits have been won by, you know, false claims of authorship, by people who had registered a story two years after they're already been registered by the person who really wrote, you know, the story. So yeah, I wouldn't worry about it, I would spend like 1,000th of the percentage of your effort worrying about, you know, you're losing your your rights to something, spend the rest of it, writing a news story. Fair enough.
Alex Ferrari 51:48
Now, I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. What, what advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?
Ken Atchity 51:58
Right, just write. And before you write, watch every movie you can get hold of every movie you can see, especially your favorite ones. And read the screenplays. It's just shocking to me how many people send in things to us, that indicate that they don't know anything about movies. And they always start with something like, you know, all the movies made today are horrible. They're not like they used to be. Which by the way isn't true. There's so many contenders for the Oscar in every category. It's crazy. I mean, as somebody has to watch all these movies for the academy and one vote on them. That is just a preposterously untrue thing. But people say it all the time, which indicates to me that they don't watch movies. Certainly, I would tell a novelist. You know, don't write a novel until you've written read a lot of novels. And that's the number. You know, watch that, watch movies, read screenplays, and then write your screenplay. And just keep writing. Now, what
Alex Ferrari 53:02
is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
Ken Atchity 53:08
That is such a good question. I don't I don't know if I'm ready to answer that yet. The lesson that took the longest to learn was I guess, being disappointed that people don't do what they say they're going to do. I don't think I still learn that. Because I see oh, you know, I deal with a lot of people. And at least half of them are more do what they say they're going to do. And they you can count on. They say they're gonna do it, they're gonna do it. But the other half don't. And it just surprises me that they don't and I don't understand, they swear I am going to do this. And then they just don't do it. And my brain was not constructed to, you know, either do that or understand how people can do. So I guess that's probably it.
Alex Ferrari 54:00
It's it's fairly shocking that people don't do what they say they're going to do in Hollywood. I mean, I've never heard of that before. It's very shocking. It's the first I've heard, I
Ken Atchity 54:09
guess what you'll find is true in the real estate business. And in you know, the architectural business and in the cookie business, every business, a cookie business. Yeah, exactly.
Alex Ferrari 54:20
Now, what is, what did you learn from your biggest failure?
Ken Atchity 54:28
Well, I guess what you learn from failures, never take anything for granted. And, and choose only the best people to work with you. And in particular, I would say choose people that are better than you. When you work when you're putting together a film for example, in any given field of the film and the given department, people that you can learn from because when you choose a weaker person that will We'll come back to haunt you. It's guaranteed. And you know, I have made that mistake and several times, and I don't want to make it any worse. So that was probably answer that question.
Alex Ferrari 55:15
No. And what are three of your favorite films of all time?
Ken Atchity 55:18
My favorite films of all time t that is that you think I get that question so often you think I'd have a pat answer to it. But one of them is a movie called fatso, which you probably never heard
Alex Ferrari 55:29
of have heard of that? So it was in the 80s, if I'm not mistaken.
Ken Atchity 55:32
Yeah. donvale always written, directed and started by Anne Bancroft mill mill, you know, Mel Brooks, his wife, one of my all time favorite movies, and and you mentioned the usual suspects, I definitely would put that up there somewhere. The pawnbroker one of the most unforgettable movies I've seen. I could watch it over and over again. I love life or something like it one of the movies that I made. I think it's still a good movie. I watch it on airlines whenever I can. Just extremely charming. It burns Angelina Jolie. But yeah, there's so many great movies. I, I kind of hate the question because it makes me choose when in fact, I'd rather give you a list of 100. Sure,
Alex Ferrari 56:24
sure. It's like choosing your favorite kid.
Ken Atchity 56:27
Yeah, exactly. You're not supposed to do that. Right?
Alex Ferrari 56:30
That's what they that's what they say. And now Is there anything you want anything you're working on anything, any new books, any new courses, things like that you can talk to the
Ken Atchity 56:38
audience about? Well, I just finished a book a few months ago called tell your story to the world and sell it for millions. Because I realized that, you know, having learned to to do storytelling on the front porches of Louisiana, my Cajun relatives who could come out and get you in laughter within seconds and others could put you asleep within seconds, who didn't know how to tell stories, I realized that there was no book that exactly showed you how to get from the front porch, or the dining room table, you know, all the way to signing a deal that could be worth millions. And that's what the book tries to do. I wrote with my vice president of story merchant called Lisa, Sarah Sally, we both had wanted to write a book like this. And so it just came out a few months ago. And it basically takes you from A to Z. And I'm really happy with that one.
Alex Ferrari 57:35
Very cool. And where can people find out more about you and the work you're doing?
Ken Atchity 57:40
My main website or the four or five companies that I run serving writers in various capacities. The main website is story, merchant calm, because it kind of shows you what all the different companies are, and you lead you from one to the other. And it shows you the movies and things that we've done, that we're proud of, and some of the movies that we're planning to do and series that we've set up.
Alex Ferrari 58:07
Very cool. Ken, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you, my friend, thank you for dropping the knowledge bombs on the tribe today.
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- Ken Atchity – Official Site
- Ken Atchity – IMDB
- Sell Your Story to Hollywood: Writer’s Pocket Guide to the Business of Show Business