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Comedy Guru Chris Fenton Gives Secrets to What He Looks for in a Script

How does Chris Fenton choose the scripts he wants to represent? He sat down with Script to give an inside look.
Chris Fenton

Chris Fenton

Chris Fenton, partner at H2F Entertainment, is putting romantic comedies back on the map with his recent list of projects in development. Earlier this year, DreamWorks picked up Eat, Sleep, Poop, based on the book by a Beverly Hills pediatrician about how to survive having a baby. Fenton’s other projects include B.F.F., about a pair of childhood friends who reunite in New York City and You Complete Us, the story of a married couple whose best friends are breaking up. How does Chris Fenton choose the scripts he wants to represent? He sat down with Script to give an inside look.

SCRIPT: What are you looking for in a great script?

CHRIS FENTON: The biggest thing we look for is a unique or fresh voice that has something we haven’t seen before or is something on par with more established writers. It has to strike a cord with us. It is something that after reading thousands of scripts over my career, I can pick out in the first 20 pages. Ideally, we also want to have commercial high concept idea that we can get out to market. That’s not always the case when we sign someone. Sometimes, it’s not a high concept idea, but I’ll still enjoy it. Even if it happens to be, heaven forbid, a period drama, if there is an interesting structure and dialog to the script that reeks of something special, that’s appealing to us.

SCRIPT: What advice can you give to new writers wanting to break in?

CF: I do a lot of panels and talk to USC and UCLA. I try to impress upon writers to really find their voice and tap into that expertise, and to write what comes natural to them. If it doesn’t necessarily create a highly piece of commercial material, that’s not the priority. If we discover that, then we can try to take their voice and put it into something sellable.

SCRIPT: What kinds of writers do you usually sign?

CF: We typically sign established writers and people that we’ve been chasing for some time. Every once in a while we do find that diamond in a rough. That doesn’t usually come from unsolicited email letters. It comes from people who recommend other writers to us. Most recently, my next door neighbors asked me to read a script by a friend of his. That was Scott Frazier. We read it but didn’t think it wasn’t the most – oh God, that’s a 3D tent pole four-quadrant movie – but it was a really great read. We said, we should sign this guy. He knows how to put it on the page. Maybe we should find a way to give him more commercial ideas and see what he can do. That was in February and we’ve already set up two of his projects with movie stars and one has a director.

SCRIPT: How do you go about assessing a script for its potential to sell?

CF: When you look at the studio system, there aren’t a lot of major studios any more. You’re talking about the Paramounts and Warners. They’re looking for stuff they can create for the masses. They’re asking, what are the big tent pole projects they can release in the summer time or on weekends and can gain money from international sales? They want big comic book action franchises? A Taken with a twist. In addition, everybody wants to find the rated R comedy that can be another Hangover. Or, a family comedy that can be something for the kids -- a Cheaper by the Dozen, or A Night at the Museum. They also want romantic comedies. The next The Proposal. The big studios are looking for those. There’s also a market outside of that for a lot of financiers who can open third or fourth here in the states but can also open overseas. There’s excitement about that. Take a $30 to $40 million investment and make a good sized profit out of that. We’ve sold quite a few of those kinds of projects this year. Most of them are not to the big studios. Most of them are to the end games or the exclusive medias.

SCRIPT: What do you think of screenwriting contests?

CF: The problem with being a screenwriter is getting noticed as a talented screenwriter. If you’re seven feet tall and can jump four feet in the air, you can live in any country in the world with any kind of access to anyone in the basketball world, you’ll eventually get discovered. It’s impossible not to get discovered. In writing, there isn’t that. You’ve got to work on all cylinders to get discovered. Networking through every friend of a friend to get to someone in the entertainment business to read your script. The screenwriting contests are a great way to break in. For Big Break™, Todd Garner is extremely successful and well connected. If he reads something you like, you’re on the way. There are a lot of off the radar contests out there too, that might have somebody not even at Todd Garner’s assistant’s level, but they might have somebody that knows somebody that’s in the business. If they think your material is fantastic, they are going to try to move their career forward by making you move forward. Any connection you can get to somebody noticing your talent as a wrier. Big Break™ is a fantastic opportunity to get noticed, and probably one of the best when it comes to the contest world, but it shouldn’t be the only method of trying to get noticed. Writers should compliment that with networking, honing their craft and getting as good as possible.