Interview: Crosby Selander
A finalist in the 2020 Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition, Crosby Selander signed with management at Kaplan/Perrone after an introduction by Pipeline execs. A month later, his script Bring Me Back sold to Legendary in a seven-figure deal, marking one the biggest spec sales of all-time from a “new,” unproduced writer.
For the next decade, everyone’s going to ask about how this script went from idea to script to sale. We know the broad details of course, but lay it out for us here (hey, instead of telling the story every time, you can just send people this link!).
I hope we’re talking about other things a decade from now! But it’s a nice thought. More than anything, Bring Me Back is a love letter to my wife. It started out as a running joke that I had with her for about a month, and then one day I figured out a story vehicle for the idea behind our joke. I had an outline a month later and a script a couple of weeks after that. I rewrote scenes and fixed it up, but structure-wise that was pretty much the draft that ended up in the Script Pipeline competition.
When it placed as a finalist, I queried and rallied my network like a maniac with the hopes of getting representation. I did this while Script Pipeline reached out to their own network on behalf of the finalists. Out of it, I ended up with four manager meetings. I chose Aaron Kaplan and Ben Neumann at Kaplan/Perrone who Script Pipeline introduced me to because they just seemed like the best fit. They had some notes on the script, and I did a quick rewrite, fixing a few scenes in a couple of days. Then they sent it to a couple of the big agencies to see if they could package it (aka attach an actor or director before trying to sell the script). It’s obviously much easier to sell a package then a script, especially when you’re a new writer. But this was also their way of testing the waters and gauging the response to the script. When the agents started fighting over getting it to their clients, that’s when they knew that they had something.
Realizing that they might not need a package in order to sell the script, they went out to 25 producers on a Wednesday in the middle of September (optimal time to sell a spec). By Thursday, most of the producers had sent it to the studios they work with or were hustling to run it up the chain of command at the production company. By the end of the day on Thursday, some studios had already read it and it was made clear that offers would be coming in. By Friday, there were multiple offers—and all were life-changing sums of money. After my reps countered and it became clear that there would be a bidding war, the companies involved wanted to meet with me. Which makes perfect sense, because if they’re going to spend a lot of money on a project, they want to make sure the person that they’re paying to do rewrite work is someone who seems up to the task. What resulted were a number of zoom calls back-to-back until around midnight when the countered offers came back.
At this point, it was clear that it was going to be between Legendary and another major company. And I had fifteen minutes to make a decision. It was excruciating because not only were there two amazing offers on the table, but because both of the teams are extraordinarily talented and hardworking people. There was no wrong choice to make. But I had to make it. And around 1 am my time, the deal with Legendary was finalized.
Story behind the story: you made a huge spec sale and became a father in the same week. Overwhelming? What was going through your mind as negotiations started to ramp up, sparking the classic “bidding war” on the script?
The Friday that all of this happened was my wife’s due date. I woke her up more than once to consult her on the offers because it was a decision I had to make with her. The sale was an emotional rollercoaster, and the timing further amplified those feelings.
After it was all said and done, there were many moments that weekend where I just broke out into crazy fits of laughter. It was very difficult to process, and my way of coping was by laughing hysterically at random intervals.
The Monday after all of this happened, my wife’s water broke and we welcomed our first-born child into the world on Tuesday morning. I was still laughing hysterically, but now for another reason.
It was a miraculous week.
Was there a point where you about to move on to another script, tuck this one away? Did you always feel there was a strong market for it, or did you treat it as a writing sample, primarily?
It’s tricky because when you’re trying to break in, you don’t want to destroy all of your bridges by sharing one script. So you test the waters. The one manager that read an early version of Bring Me Back passed on me as a writer as a consequence of reading it. . . . And others I queried about it didn’t want to read because of the logline and genre combination. So I never thought there was a market for it, but I didn’t write it for that reason. I wrote it because I thought it was beautiful, and I wanted it to exist. Before Script Pipeline picked it as a finalist, I was actually in the process of adapting it to become a scripted podcast for a book agent. Fortunately, the recognition came just in time, and the rest is history.
As far as what else I was working on, I never linger on scripts. I write them, and then I rewrite them, but then I’m on to something new. And sure, I will go back and tinker with them between projects, but I am always writing something new. After I wrote Bring Me Back, I shot a short film, I wrote two new features and a pilot, and I’m 2/3 of the way through completing a novel. Output is important to me because it’s the only way I get better. While perfecting a script is important to break through all of the noise, I’ve made it a priority over the years of focusing on output and always trying to get better.
We know you can’t go into too much detail on the plot of Bring Me Back, other than that it’s “a pleasant stab to the heart” (to quote one of our many pieces of feedback) but what was the message you were going for? The themes you wanted to touch upon, and the type of story you wanted to tell? How was it influenced—or was it influenced—by the current environment (i.e. the pandemic)?
So this is a tricky question to answer without giving too much away. But it’s definitely about love and loss and our place in the universe. The nature of love and existence.
And really asking the question of ‘how can you ever know that love is real?’ And for that matter, ‘how can you know that anything is real?’ And if you can’t ever really know, how do you go about accepting it?
What pushed you into screenwriting? Was there a moment where you said, “Oh, I’m good at this, let’s keep at it?”
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. I went to space camp three times. When I was eleven, I talked to Buzz Aldrin on a ship for an hour about his book. Because I had read it. At eleven. All the way through high school, I truly thought I would go to MIT and stay there through my PhD and try to become a mission specialist.
And then my senior year of high school arrived, and I was getting into theoretical physics in my class with some brilliant people. One of them runs robotics for a group of hospitals now, another lectures at MIT and Harvard. And while I was struggling to get Bs, these guys were telling our professor to make the exams harder. And the question became: why wasn’t I keeping up with my friends? It was really the first time I’d ever hit a wall with any subject. And I realized that I didn’t love the math the way that they all did. I didn’t play with numbers for fun as I fell asleep. Instead I was busy imagining other worlds where gravity was different and people grew differently. I was inventing stories in these other realms. It wasn’t science I loved—it was science-fiction.
And so my trajectory changed my senior year of high school. I wound up at NYU, in part because I had lots of experience acting as a kid and I thought acting would be a good way to get back into telling stories. My freshman year, I was in a terrible adaptation of a play, and I had this monologue that I hated because it was awful. The writer showed up to a rehearsal one day, and I approached her and tried to convince her to rewrite it. She refused, and I had to perform that shitty monologue on stage night after night. But I realized: writers weren’t all God-like geniuses a la Shakespeare. It turned out that, for the most part, they were human beings. And if they could write whole worlds, so could I. Perhaps I could do it better. So, I started to write, vowing to never burden an actor with a ridiculous, unnecessary monologue.
I moved from writing plays to screenplays in a natural progression. I’m a very visual learner and person, and I found I had a lot more fun and freedom to tell any kind of story when screenwriting. I finished my first feature screenplay at 21. It was terrible. But the idea was great. And some of the characters were, too. People thought I had the beginnings of talent. It took over a decade from that moment to this one, and while there have been a lot of tough moments through this journey of breaking in, I have always been happiest when I’ve been writing.
You’re living proof that a writer needn’t live in Los Angeles to a) get industry attention, and b) sell a spec. But for some who may feel “detached” from the industry and the writing community, it gets discouraging. Like they’re outside some imaginary bubble, and it’s thus harder, they believe, to break in. Did you ever share that sentiment? How have you stayed involved, so to speak, as you’re progressed toward a career in screenwriting, and what (or who) do you credit most to keeping you on track?
Yes and no. I lived in L.A. for seven years. And for the past two years, I’ve been spending four to five months a year in L.A. when my wife travels out of New York for her work. I probably would have been out there just as much this year if not for the pandemic. That being said, this sale did happen with me living on the East Coast and taking Zoom meetings. So it can happen, especially right now.
But listen, at the end of the day, L.A. is the Mecca for the entertainment industry. You’ve got to make the journey there and meet with the keepers and pay your dues. Spending time there makes it so much easier to get a sense of how the industry works and what is happening in it. It can be about going to a bar and talking to a stranger who writes for X show. Or taking an improv class and striking up friendships with people pursuing filmmaking or writing or acting. It’s about going to alumni events for your college and meeting other people who are taking this career seriously. Almost all of my contacts in the entertainment industry are a result of me living there. At some point, if you’re serious about pursuing this, you have to move to L.A.
Then when I moved back East two years ago, the way that I kept motivated was to have systems of accountability in place so that I had deadlines and people waiting to read my material. I visited L.A. and set meetings and made films and collaborated with the people that I had met there. I read industry news every day, and I read scripts off the Blacklist and pilots via my contacts. I work with a career coach who has been a huge help these past 3 years. I set deadlines with a reader. Having those deadlines kept me churning out material. This journey is tough and long, so I also credit my therapist with helping me to be nice to myself as I’ve moved through it. There’s so much rejection and hardship and having someone to talk to about it all is invaluable.
And, of course, there’s my wife. She always believed in me and has supported me in so many ways. None of this happens without her.
Let’s say it’s so many years into the future. You can write for any film franchise, reboot any old film, write any new sequel. What’s your top 2?
What’s amazing is that I’m pursuing some of my favorite things right now. There’s this one book in particular that I’ve been chasing, and it would be a dream come true to work on it. And there’s an actual chance I’ll be able to now, which is beyond incredible.
But in terms of ones that I want to speak about publicly, I would drop everything to be a part of a Star Wars movie. And I would like the opportunity to one day adapt my favorite sci-fi novelist: Ursula Le Guin.
Crosby Selander is a New York based writer, director, and producer.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Crosby lived abroad for the first decade of his life before his family settled in the U.S. in the 1990s. He did his undergraduate work at New York University and received his MFA from Carnegie Mellon University where he was the recipient of a Shubert Fellowship. Crosby is passionate about telling emotional, character-driven stories. His short films have played around the world. He’s worked on sets, in advertising, at a production company, as a camp counselor, and selling virtual video-game items on eBay as a teenager in the early 2000s.