Barbara “Babz” Bitela is a literary agent operating out of northern California, a “hired gun” editor for fiction writers, and hosts the Babzbuzz internet radio show “because folks were nice to me and helped me, so I’m trying to pay it forward, and believe me, I’m keeping it real.”
“We want voice on the page. We KNOW it when we ‘hear’ it.”
Her book Story of a Rock Singer is currently being adapted as a Broadway musical.
What’s the last thing you watched/read that you thought was incredibly well-written?
How’d you get your start as an agent?
I pitched a semi-retired agent named Ed Silver on a book I wrote. He was Lee Marvin’s manager and finance guy, also for James Coburn and many others. The guy’s ‘seen’ stuff, man – Hitchcock napping, for one. He loved my style and offered me a gig to take over and he’d mentor. We clicked big time. He’s Jewish, I’m Italian. As Sebastian Maniscalco says, “Same corporation, different division.” That’s us.
Is recognizing good writing something you believe can be taught or learned?
You for sure can learn it IF you want to. Here’s why – bad writing obviously sucks. It just does. How do you know that? By reading GREAT (not just good) scripts. I read so much so often I can now tell what’s going to go and what MAY go but here’s the rub: in the absence of money behind it, it may not matter. And I may love it and another may say “meh”. So pov does matter. So you can learn and pitch but Lady Luck is no lady: she’s a tramp in cheap shoes and she’s fickle. We press on because we believe in the story/writer we hawk. If it goes, it goes, if it doesn’t, well, I’ve had the benefit of “seeing” incredible “movies” and the only down side is, so few others will see that. THE WRITER however, benefits. Why? Job well done. And if you don’t write for the JOY of the craft, there’s no point. Write for the sale? That’s an industry sucker punch. I’ve learned to find great scripts and I’ve learned it can be like screaming in space once you do.
What are the components of a good script?
VOICE, RISING ACTION and TWISTS. What is voice: it’s a lot like porn – I know it when I see it but it’s hard to describe. Think of it this way: you open a novel, settle in and by page two you’re thinking “Ugh, this just sucks”, but you press on and by page ten you know it’s not the book for you so you donate it to Goodwill. It’s the same with a script. I once read a tv pilot by my client that I couldn’t read it fast enough. Why? I WAS DYING TO SEE WHERE IT WOULD LEAD. The action and characters were alive on the page. That is what makes a good script: I call it NARRATIVE TUG.
What are some of the most common mistakes you see?
Where to start? Typos, for sure. It’s a speed bump.
Wrylies. Just don’t. UGH! Makes me crazy. There’s only one time I’ve seen it used where it worked. ONCE. And that writer is a five-figure-income writer.
Novels posing as scripts. The writer MUST understand the economy of words and do VISUAL storytelling. Telling a story with pictures is a movie. Telling a story with talking is a soap opera.
Avoid using “ing” words – slows narrative, slows the readers eyes.
Avoid “very”. Just find what IT IS. Don’t say “very smart”, say “bright” – just pick! Not kidding. You’ll thank me. Rodale’s The Synonym Finder is invaluable for writers.
And never fall in love with your stuff. It’s gonna get cut.
What story tropes are you tired of seeing?
Well, many work. Some don’t. My favorite recently was probably in draft form: “Fire all phasers!” But instead he said “Fire everything!” Love it!
But I say write bad and cliché in the draft, leave it there, then go back and rewrite it.
Lots of folks say “Not my first rodeo.” I say “Not my first rocket launch.” Anything to WAKE UP the reader.
What are the three most important rules every writer should know?
I’ve got more than three.
-Don’t enter a script contest pitching a word doc.
-Don’t send a script unless invited.
-Don’t ask me what I think if you don’t want to know.
-Don’t go past 120 pages. I mean it. Try to stay around 100 if you can.
More rules? I think it’s just wise to do 12pt Courier font as it’s tradition. The Coen Brothers don’t use Courier. But they’re already famous, so when you’re famous do what you want. In the meantime, stick to tradition.
What do you look for when it comes to potential clients, both personally and professionally?
No dope. No booze. No drama.
Feet on the ground, and committed to spending tons of time doing what you love, regardless of the outcome.
My clients pitch themselves. They must. If that’s not for you, then I’m not the agent for you, and also, you’re in the wrong business.
Yes, the agent makes inroads, but you must pitch you and build relationships. When you do; AVOID using “I” and ask the person “What do you do, and how do you do it?” Ask about them. We’re people FIRST. That’s why I do Babzbuzz. People like me. They helped me. So I take what they tell me and mush it up with what I’ve learned, and talk about it on my show to try to help.
I’m a small company: I’m WGA.
Meh. Folks hang up on me all the time.
“Babz, love the script! Who’s funding?”
“Babz, baby. Call us back when you have the dough and I’ll show my client. He may want to star in it.”
What happened to love of story?
Hell, that left the building and moved to an island the actor/director owns. He’s got to feed his family too, ya know. So bring the bricks.
Lightning can and does strike. That’s what I do. I’m really a stormchaser who looks for folks with money who want to buy.
Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love and appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
Oh man, you had me at the fridge door. Dutch apple. Key lime. Rhubarb when you can find it. And pretty much any clever use of chocolate.