Literary Manager Built Career by Not Following the Script

It's 11 a.m. on a recent Tuesday, and Warren Zide is on the phone to his attorney, talking about his latest fascination--the Internet: "Is it correct that if I manage these people who created the content site "Beat Box Betty" that I also get to commission revenue generated from the Web site?" he asks. "It's almost like I'd be getting a percentage of the site in a weird way because it's 15% of all gross revenue, right?"

Warren Zide is a self-created, modern-day Hollywood hustler.

At 33, he is one of his generation's most successful literary manager-producers, representing some of the industry's hottest and hippest young screenwriters, including first-timer Adam Herz, whose $11-million coming-of-age comedy "American Pie" debuts today and is expected to be one of the summer's biggest hits.

Zide's producing partner, Craig Perry, describes his associate as "a force of nature [who] inevitably and always manages to get what he wants out of people."

Relying on his instincts and self-assuredness, Zide is adept at figuring out every which way to make a buck for himself and his clients.

Among the 80 or so spec scripts, including "American Pie," that he's helped get sold or optioned as movies for six figures since going into business in 1994 are Ben Ramsey's "The Big Hit" and Josh Schwartz's "Providence," a teen romance to be made by Columbia Pictures. Zide and Perry are also producers on these movies.

Zide and literary manager Lisa Santos are critiquing the first draft of a client's untitled "spring break" script, which needs work before it's offered up for sale.

"I had problems with the second act," says Zide. "It felt like it was vignette, vignette, vignette, and I got bored reading it. . . .

"Do we have enough T&A; in it? I would say if it's a 'spring break' movie, I don't want this to be PG. . . . I hated when I was growing up and you go to see some R-rated movie and there's no nudity in it, and you're like, 'Oh, man, I was gypped.' "

When it came to getting "American Pie" in shape to be sold, Zide said he and his colleagues advised Herz "to write the raunchiest script possible without worrying about the rating." Apparently, it was good advice. The R-rated comedy about four high-school buddies who make a pact to lose their virginity before graduation piqued interest at several studios before it was sold to Universal Pictures for $650,000.

Zide has been dubbed the Wunderkind of the spec market because of his knack for creating heat for the scripts he sells--about 80% of which are by first-time writers.

Zide says he only has to read the first 10 pages of a script to know whether it's any good. He loves nothing more than "finding a writer that every agency has passed on," and invariably getting the call from agents wanting to represent that client after a big sale.

"I tell people I would rather have started a company with unknowns who are great writers than known great writers just for the challenge of building their careers," he says.

Some think of Zide as too cocky, a real operator, though he's not a typically slick, Hollywood schmoozer. He doesn't wear Armani. He recently bought a house in Sherman Oaks rather than the Westside. He hates Hollywood parties and premieres. And he's never been to a film festival.

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He spends a good part of his day jawboning with writers, getting their scripts in shape to sell, while also finding time to pursue such ventures as setting up an Internet service for writers, talking with potential equity investors about film financing, even entertaining merger talks--exploring virtually any avenue that might expand his business.

Sitting in his office at Zide/Perry Entertainment's Beverly Hills headquarters, decorated with Three Stooges, Marx brothers and "Star Wars" movie memorabilia, the husky-framed Zide, sporting blond tortoise-shell specs and a short-cropped goatee, is wearing bluejeans, a navy T-shirt and white sneakers. With his telephone headset on and feet propped up on the desk, he intermittently pounds out e-mails on his computer and glances at what's on the TV mounted above his desk as he juggles a steady stream of calls and meetings.

A writer client arrives to talk about his spec script "Replicate."

"I'm right to say the tone is like 'Weird Science' and 'Splash'?" Zide asks his colleagues in the room. The story is about a man who accidentally clones someone he believes to be the "perfect" woman.

"There have been a lot of cloning scripts out there," Zide notes, but adds, reassuringly, "We really think if there was one to make, this is the one.

"So, I think the most important thing is to talk about the first 20 pages and how we can keep the characters real. Do we want this character to be a cool guy, a loser guy, a nerdy guy, a regular guy, a guy who's popular? What do we think?"

Self-conscious about the presence of an observer, Zide good-humoredly turns to a reporter--who hadn't even heard of the script until a few minutes earlier--and says, "Feel free to jump in if you have any suggestions."

He concludes, "Will you have a draft next week?" The writer is startled, so Zide revises the question, "Monday? I'll give you until Tuesday. How about Wednesday or Thursday?"

Zide has no compunction about pushing his clients. After all, he's always had to push himself, particularly when early on in his career few seemed to believe in him.

Born in Southfield, Mich., Zide and his younger sister were raised in a family involved in show business: His father distributed independent films, and his grandfather went town-to-town in the 1950s taking film orders from theaters.

Shortly after graduating with a finance degree from Michigan State, Zide moved to Los Angeles and went to work in the film business--sort of. He got a part-time job assembling shelving units at New Line Cinema, and that was because his father went to high school with the company's founder, Bob Shaye. After a month, he was promoted to the mail room, where he stayed for a year before landing a job as an assistant at talent agency International Creative Management in the early 1990s.

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He quit after 2 1/2 years when management decided he didn't have what it took to be an agent.

Zide is driving his leased 1996 dark green Lexus to a 1 p.m. lunch meeting at the Grand Havana Room--a private Beverly Hills cigar club-restaurant--with a client who's just moved back from New York.

"Warren is out of control, he's a madman," the writer tells a reporter. "How can I stay away? I'm getting sick of seeing his name in the paper."

The two begin to discuss an idea that the writer has been struggling with for years and is now developing both as a series of books and as a screenplay.

"The idea is it will be sold to the publishing world and the movie world either simultaneously or separately, but it's not going to be just one or the other. We want to maximize the idea," says Zide, who is anxious to know when his client will be settled enough to start taking some meetings.

Zide likes to take untraditional paths.

"There's a certain blazed trail that Warren has never gone down," suggests Perry, who met Zide in the New Line mail room and partnered with him in 1997.

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When ICM refused to make him an agent, Zide decided to build a business around undiscovered talent, believing that "movies are writer driven, not star driven."

Zide and other managers say the main difference between what they do and what agents do is that they can devote more time to working closely with writers on their scripts, strategizing their careers and helping package and produce their movies.

But when Zide started his management company in a rented room where he was living in Encino, he had no clients or much money.

"I had a bed, a phone and a desk," recalled Zide, who had to hound assistants he knew and friends in the business to slip him scripts. He made his first sale when a writer's girlfriend sent him "Mango," about a cop and an orangutan, which he sold in 1994 to New Line for about $500,000.

Suddenly, Zide, who had been living on tuna fish and spaghetti, "started getting calls from people I didn't even know. . . . I literally gained 40 pounds because people were always buying me lunch."

Today, Zide and Perry's company receives more than 3,200 unsolicited scripts a year and has a multitude of movie projects in the works. The firm employs eight people, including the two partners and a newly hired executive (Zide's cousin) who is working on Internet ideas.

Zide sees the Internet as the next moneymaking frontier. Later this month, he plans to launch InZide.com, a Web site for writers featuring online chat rooms and advice on how to write and sell scripts. He and Perry have built a Web site, Piestuff.com, to sell T-shirts from "American Pie" that they hope to launch soon after the film's release.

"I'm learning as I go," said Zide, noting it's not unlike the position he found himself in 5 1/2 years ago when he first went into business on his own.

"There are just a lot of things going on. My mind is racing."

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