The Last Story Editor: Christopher Lockhart (William Morris Endeavor)

Jun 22, 2020
 

We’ve all dreamt of it: swanning into a meeting with the most famous actors on the planet to put our words in their mouths. Well that’s Christopher Lockhart’s day job.

Willam Morris Endeavor (WME) is one of the oldest agencies in existence. And Christopher holds an important, and rather unique, role in it. If you have any ambitions towards Hollywood, this session is NOT to be missed!

What does the story editor do?

The first intriguing thing about Christopher is his job title: story editor.

Story editors date back to the earliest days of Hollywood, but are seldom found nowadays. Before the studio system, their job was to locate stories, approach the writers, and sometimes direct and edit the films. Later, they simply connected the material with the studio.

What Christopher does is something else.

Christopher connects scripts with actors. Specifically, the biggest actors. Rachel McAdams, Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Denzel Washington, Ben Affleck, Michelle Rodriguez. That kind of big.

He finds scripts that he feels will suit his clients best, and will ensure their vision is maintained, often right through into editing. Above all else, he prioritises his client’s satisfaction. If you want to get the A-list actors in your movie, this is the guy you’ve gotta impress!

How should we be writing?

Christopher has a few clear ideas about pitfalls to avoid and goals to aim for when writing a script to attract the A-Listers. Sensibility and voice are especially important to him, or the way that we tell our stories in particular. He urges us to balance the tone in our scripts, not veering too far from one genre to the next.

A big no-no is reactive or inactive protagonists; the hero of your story should have something to do, and if they aren’t proactive, the script will suffer for it.

Christopher encourages screenwriters to think of themselves as story builders; we construct our stories methodically, with a focus on structure and form. The best stories will generate ‘love at first sight’ upon hearing the logline, where the character perfectly aligns with the concept. So get working on those loglines!

And avoid flashbacks. As much as possible!

How should we OCCUR?

Let’s say you’ve got that meeting with the agent, manager or producer. There might a better chance of that in the post-Covid 19 world, when people have been forcibly acquainted and got comfortable with Zoom chats. What are they gonna see from you?

It works both ways: they’re going to consider how you will represent them as well. It’s not that you have to wear a tie (a look Christopher rocked in the session) - the film industry is one of the most casual - but you should still think of your meeting like a job interview, and present the best, most genuine and professional version of yourself.

The Talent Campus and many other LSWF events are dedicated to how we ‘occur’ with effortless grace; this is where that all comes into play.

Agents, Managers, Lawyers…. WHAT?!

The Brits among us may be quite baffled by the mention of agents, managers and lawyers, when over here we only really have agents. The Hollywood system works a little differently, but fortunately Chris breaks it down for us.

Managers are responsible for cultivating new writers and evolving their talent. They don’t officially have the legal authority to negotiate for clients, but they often introduce them to agents and other execs.

Agents are people you come to slightly later in the game, when you have projects that are actively ready to sell. They tend to do less of the hands-on reviewing and noting your work like managers; instead they are all about the deal. Finding or creating opportunities for the writer and getting signatures on the best contracts is agent’s domain.

Lawyers are there as an additional precaution. Most agencies will have lawyers, but it can be advantageous for a screenwriter to have their own to double check all the documents in a negotiation.

On a final note, if we wish to be represented by WME, we will probably need a recommendation by someone close to them, or to win the Nicholl Fellowship or make a prestigious award-winning short. That’s probably further in the future for many of us, but WHEN you get there, be sure to have Christopher Lockhart in your corner!

Check out The Inside Pitch Facebook group, or read Variety or Deadline to find possible managers to connect with in the meantime.


James Alexander Allen has been a screenwriter for about five years. He has also written a stage play (performed at Brighton’s Rialto and the Bread and Roses in Clapham) and directed three short films. He loves all things Star Wars, and dark comedies with a healthy grain of truth in them.

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