Jermaine Johnson is a Literary Manager at Zero Gravity Management and if you’ve never heard him speak, you’re going to want to check out his conversation with Sarah J. Eagen promptly. It’s not just his years of experience, it’s his attitude that writers should heed and adopt.
“You’re the architect of your reality,” he told his audience of writers.
His description of the ideal client hints at his professional persona, a mixture of passion and prudence: “I’m looking for endless ideas. I’m looking for collaboration. I’m looking for people who know their words are good but realize they don’t know everything. I’m looking for people who can write scripts that can get made — material that is uncommon, with characters that the coveted 18-39 demographic want to know about. With a world that I’ve never heard of before or a new take on an existing world.”
Jermaine is a juror for the WeScreenplay TV competition. Final Deadline is Sept. 15, 2020.
The full video is live on Facebook and merits a viewing, but here’s some of his advice for television and feature writers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic:
“If you’re writing for TV, have a minimum of two samples. If one of those samples is a pilot, make sure you have a series bible or badass lookbook for it.” He also mentioned that he’d like to see a feature sample as well, due to the heavy saturation of the TV environment.
“For everyone trying to get into TV, have a feature sample too. TV is hard to get into right now. The content needs to be really good or it needs talent attached. But people are looking for features, so you can take that sample into the marketplace right now.”
“If you’re a feature writer, I’d like to see two or three scripts — and one should be incredible. When you get in the room, have a few good ideas you can pitch, too.”
“Short films aren’t enough for me, either on the directing or writing side. I think they can show the potential of someone, but if you want to be a professional writer, you need to prove that you can write professional scripts.”
Takeaway: Writers should have multiple full-length samples in their portfolio as well as healthy pitches for future projects. The current climate is especially responsive toward excellent feature screenplays.
ON SUBMITTING TO HIS COMPANY
“I’ll take a recommendation from anyone who has proven themselves to me,” he said in reference to a question about submitting a query letter with a referral. He invited “anyone with dynamic material” to submit, but it came with a warning to listen to everything he had to say in the conversation.
In other words, his standards are high and he’s looking to work with clients who meet his criteria of excellence, willingness to learn, and dedication to their craft.
Takeaway: It’s always helpful to submit to professionals with a personal referral but dynamic work will always speak for itself in the right hands.
ON THE CURRENT CLIMATE FOR WRITERS
“I want to tell stories about everyone and everything. I’m a Black man, but I’m not just a Black man. I’m not limited to this body. I’m energy. So when I say I’m looking for people of color to tell their stories, I mean I think those are stories that need to be told but that’s not all I’m looking for.”
“If you want to get paid for your words, you have to write stuff that people want to see.”
“Buyers don’t know when they’re actually going to be able to put stuff out. To sell something right now, not only does it have to be really good, you have to have an element to attach to it that would allow you to place it in a marketplace in this environment. Write something contained.”
“You don’t have to be in LA right now. There will probably come a time where, if your skill warrants it, you should be here to take meetings and get to know people.”
Takeaway: Study trends to find the stories that need to be told and align them to stories that you alone can tell best. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially prudent to write a contained story that can be produced safely.
Ultimately, managers like Jermaine are looking for people who are not just adept at writing. They’re looking for people who educate themselves about the entertainment business, who work well within a creative team, and who know how to dream up ideas that capture their attention.
Interested in the opportunity to be read by Jermaine? Submit to our WeScreenplay TV Pilot Contest now!
Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com, and she has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!