With two projects at Cannes, a recent sale to Miramax, and a television project with Legendary on his plate, Peter Hoare is quickly becoming a Hollywood success story. Here, he shares his journey and sage advice for writers.
It might be tempting to think of comedy screenwriter Peter Hoare as an overnight success since he’s crushing the festival scene this year, with two projects at Cannes. Standing Up, Falling Down (with Billy Crystal and Ben Schwartz) just premiered at Tribeca Film Festival and is seeking international distribution at Cannes, and the action comedy Down Under Cover has attached Avengers: End Game star Chris Hemsworth and Tiffany Haddish (with End Gamedirectors Joe and Anthony Russo producing). Plus, it was just announced that Miramax purchased Hoare’s pitch for The Twenty Year.
It’s been a good year. However, we writers know the journey to success is never easy. Hoare spoke candidly with Script about the decade of hard work and heartbreak that preceded this recent run of success. He shared the highs, the lows—all peppered with some sage wisdom for emerging writers.
Before he was out of high school, Hoare tackled writing his first screenplay. Loving writing, but not seeing screenwriting as a tangible career at the time, he went into production instead. At least he was in the industry as a digital producer at MTV, making a living. But, he realized he should be writing and made the risky jump, giving up his 401K and job security.
“I was clipping up a show called Bromance and thought I just can’t do this anymore. This isn’t at all in any way fulfilling. And I’ve always been the kind of person who at least wanted to attempt to have a career I liked, and if I failed, I’d find one that was fine.”
Tip #1 Apply Yourself
About the same time he left MTV, he had an idea for a script about a guy who was part of a celebrity death pool (where people place bets on which celebrity will die first, and the one who picks that celebrity gets the cash). The character’s life takes a downturn, and he thinks the only way to get his life back on track is to kill the celebrity he picked.
“It was a dark comedy, and I thought. ‘Okay, I have an idea. I can see it as a movie; let’s figure out how to write a movie.’ I remember reading Royal Tenenbaums, Chasing Amy, and Stand By Me just to learn the structure of writing a screenplay.”
He downloaded Final Draft and every screenplay he could find, reading all of them. When he was finished with the script in 2010, titled Killing John Stamos, he used WhoRepresents.com to find contact information for literary managers and agents. He sent it to everyone he could but failed to find representation.
He did get an email back from someone at CAA who told him it was an interesting concept. That gave him the fuel to keep going. So, he took an interest in screenwriting contests, which he says can sometimes be a scam. (You can vet contests by paying attention to who they list as judges and researching those people.) His script won the TrackingB competition, which he feels is a legit contest that always lists the judges, who are producers, agents and managers. So, he knew who would be reading his work, and his win netted him management.
“I was so naive. I thought I’d made it. I pretty much thought they were going to sell my script, and I was going to be a millionaire.”
That may not be what happened, but he still recommends legit contests to new screenwriters.
“It led me to where I am right now, getting my movies made,” he said. “It took a decade but the only reason that is happening, honestly, is because I won that TrackingB competition.”
Tip #2 Know When to Fire Management
They didn’t sell his script, but they did give him the confidence to believe he was good enough to deserve management. Regardless, he didn’t get any paid work through them. He knew it was time to look for something different after he shared his screenplay called Everybody Wants Head about a sex addict and a germaphobe who find a severed head. One of them pulled him aside and gave him some advice.
“He told me I should go watch the movie Hitch twice, back to back. So, already that was a red flag to me. Then he told me I should go write something like Hitch.
"Something snapped in me. I hadn’t done anything yet, and so I didn’t want to emulate something else. I wanted my own thoughts, and I think it was bizarre for him to tell me to emulate something else, especially something arbitrary like Hitch.
“I was so taken back by that and thought, ‘If he didn’t like my film, which is now called Head Case, and I stand by to this day being very funny, then he doesn’t get me creatively;’ It is what it is. He doesn’t get my sense of humor; it’s very subjective and I couldn’t be with a manager whose sense of humor is so different than mine.
“So, I fired him. I didn’t creatively gel with those guys, but they’re both still working today, and I’m sure they’re helping lots of writers. It just didn’t work for me.
“You need to be on the same page, fighting for the same cause. Especially for comedy. If I write something that really makes me laugh, and the people giving me notes have different things that make them laugh, we’re never going to be on the same page, and I feel like my career isn’t going to get to where it could go. I decided I wasn't going to sign with another manager until I met someone on the same comedy wavelength. I wanted someone I could sit down and have a beer with and we'd make each other laugh."
Tip #3: Find Management as Hungry as You.
Despite recognizing it wasn’t the best match, he says he questioned his decision later, wondering if maybe the manager was right since he was far more experienced in the industry. They must know better than him, right?
Still, he pressed forward to find coverage and feedback from others who might be on the same wavelength.
“There are a lot of sites you can go to and pay a reader to read your script and give you feedback and who knows who a lot of the readers are—probably some college kid or something. But I found one (no longer around) who gave free coverage. I didn’t know why they did it, but I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going in.’”
He uploaded the script to their site. They loved it and reached out to him, asking if it was okay to send it to a new literary manager they knew. Hoare gave a quick, “Hell yes,” and that’s how Kailey Marsh became involved.
Hoare said he signed with her because she thought the script was hilarious, and because she was an independent literary manager; she wasn’t getting a paycheck every week.
“She was just as hungry as I was, although she busts ass and now she’s with Brillstein Entertainment Partners.
“Find yourself a young and hungry manager. Someone who has not been there and done that. She had clients, and she was working, but she was super motivated and hungry. And I thought, ‘Good. A teammate,’ and I’ve been with her since 2011. Within weeks, she optioned Everybody Wants Head and got me my first ever paycheck for $15,000, and I thought I was rich.”
Tip #4: Be Ready For Changes
After Stamos passed on Killing John Stamos, Hoare thinks it was Marsh who suggested changing it to Hasselhoff. That way, if it tanked in the US (Hoare said, “Spoilers, it did!”), it might make some money in Europe where Hasselhoff has a tremendous following. Marsh got in touch with producers from Baywatch who set up a meeting with the Hoff.
“David tells this story where he took one look at the title page and said ‘I’ll do it,’" Peter laughed and explained that Hasselhoff championed the project, traveling to secure some of the funding himself.
“When this was financed, I got the same feeling I did when I won the contest: ‘Oh my god, oh my god, this is all happening.’ I thought, ‘I’m getting a movie made. This is amazing!’ It had Colton Dunn, Rhys Darby, Ken Jeong, Jim Jeffries and a lot of really funny people. But it was a harsh lesson.”
He quickly found himself in an all-too-common situation for screenwriters where the notes from the studio were messing up the story and changing it for the worst. While he was doing some rewrites, he already felt like the new notes didn’t make sense to the story. But then, he flew out to be on set the first day of filming and realized he didn’t recognize the words at all. They had hired someone to rewrite the script again, and it turned into something Hoare calls "horrible."
“Little by little, what I saw was the movie changed into something that was so different than the movie I originally wrote, and that David read, so many years before. Long story short, it came out on DVD, but man, it could have been really, really funny.
“But this is a business that is nothing but failure, and you just have to let the failures fuel you. You have to just take the good with the bad.”
Tip #5 Stand Up for Yourself
At the time, he said he was afraid to stand up for himself, and he was just grateful to have a paycheck because it is so hard to make money in this industry. Now, with more experience under his belt, he says, if he could go back and do it again, he would stand up for himself.
I asked if he thought he would have faced any backlash for pushing back as a new writer on his first feature. No one wants to be labeled a difficult writer. Hoare suggested something he read in a book.
“If you’re going to shoot down an idea, you should always be prepared with another idea. I always use the words ‘What if.’ Like ‘What if we don’t do it like this, but what if we do it like this?’
“If you’re always prepared with a plan B, and are sure their plan A or whatever they want to do with the scene or the notes won’t work, be a salesman. Sell them on the Plan B. Don’t go in and say ‘That sucks.’ No one wants to hear that, and then you’re labeled a difficult writer. A lot of directors don’t want the writer on set for fear of that. But try saying, ‘That’s fine, but what if we do it this way?’
“A lot of the time, if their idea wasn’t that good, the director or producer will say they like your idea. Be armed with a solution instead of the guy just pointing out how shitty something is.”
Tip #6 Los Angeles Can Wait
After Killing Hasselhoff was made, he had a television show in development (that never made it to screen), and he had a good manager and an agent. Hoare thought he was good to go and followed advice in a book that said “Move to Los Angeles” on page one. He packed up and moved, finding himself a small fish in a gargantuan pond. He spent the next year writing and pitching pilots that had various levels of interest. Despite some options, he said that the year in L.A. was not prosperous for him.
“Everyone in L.A. has a screenplay. I was at a coffeeshop working on something, and there were two rows of people on their computers; Final Draft was open on every one of them. I don’t know. Maybe don’t move to Los Angeles unless you have maybe ten screenplays and a few television pilots.”
Hoare acknowledged that it is different for him, living in New York, than someone in say Wisconsin, and you should be willing to at least travel to Los Angeles for meetings, and that it is more necessary if you want to do studio writing for television. Before his move, he had representation who could get him meetings, but unless you have someone who can put you in the room regularly, the move isn't necessary. One benefit is that your agent will vet out the many hacky people who will say they are producers. Hoare cautioned writers not to sign anything without a lawyer looking at it. Posers are out there, and you need not fall into that trap just because you're hungry.
Still, his year in Los Angeles resulted in a whole lot of “maybes,” and “so closes” with a few small sales, like selling some animated sketches to Comedy Central for season two of TripTank after a television project he had with them didn't go to screen. One of his pilots had some very impressive talent and producers attached, and he thought it was going to sell, but he watched the "maybes" turn to "nos" one by one as 13 different networks eventually passed.
Almost every writer faces that moment when the reality of their wallet forces them to redirect their plan. The trick is to be humble enough to find a Plan B, C, and D that will still keep you focused on your writing and long-term goals. As long as you're committed to writing, there's still a chance at success.
“There was one point I had like 14 credit cards, no money and was so depressingly broke. So, I moved home and had to ask my parents for a loan.”
Tip #7 Channel Your Failures
Here he was, 34 years old and briefly living with mom and dad again before crashing in a buddy's spare room. No money. Single. And for the first time ever, he had severe anxiety.
He thought, “Dude you are in a hole; let’s channel this. Write your way out of it, and write the most real thing you’ve ever written.”
That’s when he started writing the heartwarming film Standing Up, Falling Down, which is about a stand-up comedian who has to leave Los Angeles to live with mom and dad again in New York, where he is impacted by a wacky character named Marty, played by Billy Crystal. Hoare shared the script's character introduction:
MARTY is a twice-divorced Long Island dermatologist who wouldn't call himself an alcoholic. He'd prefer the term "alcohol enthusiast." "Weed enthusiast" would work, too. Marty is a perpetual barfly who's the life of the party, even when he's at a funeral. But behind that wall of rapid-fire jokes is the repressed grief of a sad clown.
Although the comedian was loosely based on his emotions, everything else in the film was fictional, and it did the job. It carried him through his difficult time.
“If you’re at a point where you realize you’re at the most upset point you’ve ever been in your life, channel it. See if you can make something out of it.”
Tip #8 Follow Your Gut
When he was thinking about leaving Los Angeles, people had told him that anyone new to Los Angeles loves it ... after three or four years. He decided he didn’t have that long to wait, but moving home—tough as it was— turned to be out to be a great move for him. (He still travels to Los Angeles regularly for meetings.)
He wasn’t in New York long before his agent called and told him that a new sitcom with Kevin James was going to be shooting at a studio in Long Island, just a few miles from his parents’ home.
Since he had written a wealth of pilots and scripts while in Los Angeles, he had samples to send the showrunner. He landed his first gig in a writer’s room with a nice weekly check and could relax for a while.
“So, that year in Los Angeles wasn’t really wasted. Having those scripts ready to share was a good thing. It all felt very kizmet.”
Tip #9 Create as Much Material as You Can
Having those samples to send were indeed integral to this new opportunity, and Hoare recommends creating a stockpile of scripts. It's the key to success. No matter what hits your career path takes, keep writing.
“Never be that screenwriter who writes one screenplay and hangs their hat on that forever. You could write 20 screenplays and have 20 of them make you zero dollars, and it’s not even a shock. This business can be frustrating. Failure is the norm; success is the exception to the rule. So, hedge your bets and up your odds by having as much work written as humanly possible.”
Then you have to get those projects out there. Before he had pitched anything as a younger writer, he said he imagined pitches as stuffy Powerpoint presentations in front of a boardroom table full of people in suits, but he has always found it more effective to have a relaxed fun conversation about the possibility of a project.
Hoare said he is a much better writer than a salesman, so he usually doesn’t pitch concepts. He writes out spec episodes and creates detailed bibles with information for up to three seasons, or the full feature script, to impress them with his writing. That’s what he planned to do with his latest idea.
“A lot of my ideas come from joking around with my girlfriend, and if it’s something we are laughing really hard at, I think there might be a movie there. So, the idea for The Twenty Year was based on a little joke about her reunion, and I hadn’t written it yet, but I had the idea fleshed out."
There are lots of meetings that happen that aren’t set up to be pitches, and Hoare said you should always have an answer to the question, “What else are you working on?” That is how he sold The Twenty Year to Miramax. He went in for a general meeting with development executive Matthew Anderson so they could be on each other’s radar. In walked Miramax CEO Bill Block, who asked the iconic question. “What else are you working on?”
“This wasn’t a planned pitch, but I had an answer. I told them about the idea, and sold it right there in the room. So, always have answers to that question.”
Tip #10 Always Maintain Relationships, Champion Yourself
While working in New York, Hoare was sending out Standing Up, Falling Down and getting lots of “That’s nice; what else do you have?” But he didn’t want to back down on this particular project, because he thought it was the best thing he’d ever written; his manager agreed. However, he wasn't getting any bites. A lot of people are looking for high concept, and Hoare was getting the feeling that this film was too “small."
“I thought to myself, 'I need this made. This is good.’ I was not willing to take no for an answer. I knew I was right about this. Thank God I stood by that, because I took it into my own hands and thought ‘who can I get this to myself?’”
He reached out to Chris Mangano, a producer who had been involved with a studio that had optioned something from him years before. He asked him to read the script and tell him if he thought it was too small. Mangano replied saying he thought they could make it and got director Matt Ratner involved and they, along with other producers, attached the talent.
“First we got Billy [Crystal], and I never would have thought it was possible to get him. But when we heard Billy read it and was receptive, I believe we floated a few possible thoughts to Billy, and Billy was a big fan of Ben [Schwartz]. It’s funny because when we were first fantasy casting it, we thought ‘What about Ben Schwartz?,’ so we chose Ben, and Billy chose Ben.”
He went on to reiterate how important it is to maintain relationships.
Tip #11 Treat it Like a Job and Go For It
Hoare writes pretty much every day and sticks to a schedule where he leaves the house by 10 a.m. to work in a coffeeshop.
“I’m a walking, talking Brooklyn cliche—a bearded guy in a coffeeshop working all day. I try to write as much as humanly possible. Right now, I have a TV pitch going out soon with Legendary TV—I was revising that—and a digital interactive project with another company. Next week, I have to start working on The Twenty Year. I’m also still doing rewrites for Down Under Cover."
This last project was born from his desire to write something really funny again after Standing Up, Falling Down, which has some sad moments. Down Under Cover is the tale of two cops who have to go undercover—one as an erotic male dancer in an Australian troupe (Chris Hemsworth) and the other as a drunken gambler (Tiffany Haddish). Hoare had the idea for it when his girlfriend and her sister went to see the Australian men’s erotic dance troupe Thunder from Down Under.
Hoare thinks Hemsworth is very funny and thought he would be a good match for it because of the Australian theme. So, they sent it to Hemsworth’s production company and figured they would then start pitching it to studios, if rejected. To Hoare’s surprise, he got a call two weeks later saying that Hemsworth was interested.
“I did some rewrites for him and his notes were really great. They made it funnier. He wanted his character to appear less cool. He really wanted to be a fool that everyone knocks down a peg, including his partner on the force. So, he wanted a female that could pull the right attitude and suggested Haddish.”
Next, the Russo Brothers signed on to produce the film with Hemsworth.
By continuously writing and pitching new material over the span of a decade, Hoare has come into a moment of success that many young writers dream of, and he encourages them to keep striving for their dreams.
“Four years ago, I was so utterly broke when I moved home, and I thought I was never going to do anything again. Just the fact that I just had a conversation with you about Chris Hemsworth and going to Australia to shoot a movie says there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s such a frustrating business. I understand why people quit writing. No success comes quick. It’s so hard. Someone once said it’s a hard way to make an easy living. I don’t have to be at an office at a certain time, but you have no idea how much you’re going to make next year.
“But if you think you’re good at it, never hang up your hat. Always be coming up with new material; overwork yourself. The more you cast a wide net, the more of a success you have the chance to be. Always try to be the hardest worker in the room.
“If you do wind up making this a career, it’s the coolest. I have moments I get emotional thinking about it. It’s great to do something for a living that you would otherwise do for free, and I would do this for free, and I have done this for free. Having it for a career is the most rewarding thing ever. If it’s always been your dream, I can’t say enough to encourage you to follow it. And if you can write and make enough to pay your bills—which is all I ever want to do—then it’s the most rewarding thing ever. Do it.”