by Jim Cirile
I recently chatted with Sean Sorensen and Tim Albaugh, the execs behind Hollywood production company Popular Films. Popular is on a roll, setting up a pile of projects lately, including Sealand at Warner Bros.; Hurricane Season, which Sean is co-executive producing with Adelstein Productions and State Street Pictures at HBO; Live Nude Girls Unite! which Sean is writing and producing at Reason Pictures, with Nicole Kassell (The Woodsman) attached to direct; Weasel which Sean and Tim are producing with Echo Lake Entertainment; and Croak which is set up at Hudson River Entertainment..
Now Popular Films, in alliance with Coverage, Ink, is now offering screenplay consulting services. I know of no other real, working production company that offers this. That means that anybody can now get the awesome consulting power of these smart execs behind their script. And unlike many consultants, these guys are actually on the front lines, working in the biz. Furthermore, Tim was my teacher in the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting, and I can attest to his top-notch story savvy. Simply put: you don’t get much better than these guys.
Unlike most other consultants, if Popular Films analyzes your script, they will actually meet with you in person (or by phone if you’re not in LA) for a 90-minute in-depth meeting about your script. For more info on this cool new service, click HERE
Jim Cirile: Tell me a little bit about each of you and how you got into the business.
Sean Sorensen: Ever since I saw Star Wars, I was hooked on movies. That was a galvanizing moment for me. I was only 4 or 5, but I knew I was going to be in the movie business. At first I thought I was going to be an actor, but ultimately I found my niche in producing and crafting stories. I have a pretty good eye for what makes a movie. My big break was when I got the rights to the Sealand project and then sold it to Warner Bros. I wrote the script and I’m executive producing the movie with Nick Wechsler (Drugstore Cowboy, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain.)
Tim Albaugh: I was on track to be an entertainment attorney in the Bay Area, putting together limited partnerships for independent films. My last quarter as an undergrad before I was going off to law school, I took a screenwriting class. I enjoyed it and wrote a script that won a major competition, wound up going to grad school at UCLA instead, and then wrote a script there that got me an agent, and that was also the first script I had produced (Do Me a Favor).
JC: Your folks must have been ready to strangle you—abandoning a lucrative career for one of likely destitution and poverty.
TA: (laughs) No, my mom is okay with it as long as I’m not doing drugs.
JC: So, how did you guys hook up?
SS: Well, you know, they have those ads in the back of LA Weekly…
TA: Actually, I met Sean much like how I met you, Jim—Sean was in one of my (UCLA) Professional Program classes. I found him to be a good writer and very entertaining. I gave him notes on one of his scripts, and we talked about our situation. He brought one thing to the table, and I brought another thing; we decided to sit at the table together.
JC: Was Sealand the first project you guys had collaborated on?
TA: Sean had sold the pitch. He wrote the script, and we worked together on fine tuning it. I was there to give him guidance and notes and input.
JC: Whose idea was it to form Popular Films?
TA: Sean had already started the company, and then I came on board. Our roles are that Sean has nurtured the majority of the contacts on the business side, and I’ve nurtured the contacts on the creative side. I have constant access to new material, so my role is to find stuff and develop it, and Sean’s role is also to develop and then get it out there.
JC: And you both write.
TA: Yeah. Sean just finished an assignment for a company (Whiteout for Hudson River Entertainment).
SS: Producing is definitely what Popular Films is about, but I’m still out there as a writer.
TA: The ultimate goal of the company is to be a strong production company, a real force in town.
SS: Popular Films is a production company where we develop scripts in-house then set them up at studios or with independent financiers.
TA: And one of our strengths is that we are both writers and have been in the situations that writers find themselves in and can approach things from the writer’s and producer’s perspective. It’s a double-edged sword. We’re able to work with the writer and know exactly what writers may be struggling with, but more often than not we also know how to fix it because we’ve been there before.
JC: Tell me about some of your success stories.
SS: The first one (we set up) was Weasel.
TA: Weasel was written by a guy named Steve Bagatourian, who also had a film called American Gun produced, which is currently nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards. I’ve been involved in the development of a lot of his scripts. Weasel was one that he wrote in a class of mine. I continued to help him develop it, and then I introduced him and the material to Sean. We developed it with him a little more, and then we shopped it around, and ultimately Echo Lake Productions stepped up and acquired the script, and we’re producing the film with them.
SS: We’re out to A-list directors on that project right now. It’s very exciting. Weasel is gonna be a killer movie.
JC: So what else is going on with Popular Films now?
SS: We’re trying to get movies made. In fact, I’m in my car right now on my way to HBO to attach a writer to one of the projects we’re producing there. We have six movies set up, and have just acquired the rights to a couple more projects.
JC: So why did you guys decide to offer development services to everyone?
TA: Obviously, part of it is us looking for new material, but it’s also us wanting to help a writer get a foot in the door. We can offer something that most consultants can’t, which is that we’re actively involved in the business. So we know what people are looking for, and we know what works and doesn’t work. So our clients are getting notes from people who know what it takes. I mean, obviously, we’re not Jerry Bruckheimer and Brian Grazer yet, but we’re definitely up and coming. We’re accessible to people. And if people want to go along with us on that ride, that’s great. You can talk to anybody who we’ve set up projects for, and they’ll tell you that we’re on the up and up, we’re fun to work with, and ultimately there are results.
JC: There are a lot of consultants out there who have no industry cred, who are out there trying to take people’s money.
TA: Sure. But like I said, we’re on the front lines. There’s an opportunity to provide a service, backed by our proven track record as writers/producers. The idea is that we’re helping people, with the hope that we may also be able to discover someone who might be the next ‘something else.’ You’ve got to keep your ear to the ground, keep looking for people like that. There’s something exciting and satisfying about finding someone new and interesting who’s just breaking in.
JC: You guys were kind enough to read a few of the Writers on the Storm top ten from this past year. None of them were right for you guys, but we appreciate your taking the time to read them. For this year’s WOTS participants, do you have any advice?
TA: Jim, I read a lot of scripts through Popular Films and UCLA, and I know you also read a lot of scripts through your company. The thing I see a lot is people writing “documents” – not movies. I read too many screenplays that aren’t movies.
SS: You have to keep an eye on the marketplace, find a way to have a fresh, original take. That’s difficult to do, but it’s what’s going to make you stand out amongst the clutter.
For more info on how to get Popular Films behind your screenplay, check them out HERE. And remember, all submissions between 1/2/07 and 3/20/07 are automatically entered into Writers on the Storm at no extra charge.