When I roared up to Chris' house on my Suzuki, he was already rolling his bike into the garage. It was a tricked out Kawasaki Z1 that could do an honest 150 mph, with still more twist in the throttle.
When Chris saw me he pulled a manila envelope from his jacket and waved it. "Got the shit," he said. "Straight from the Guild."
Translation: The "shit" was a list of Guild -sanctioned agents. (Only later did I realize just how right-on that description was.)The Writers Guild Of America -west (WGAw ) was a union of brother and sister scribes we'd recently joined. You had to sell at least one movie or two episodes of television to qualify. We'd made that sale - a low budget flick about The Lost Dutchman Mine that would never be made. But it did pay well enough to cover the several thousand dollars it cost for WGA membership.
I made appropriate "hot damn" noises and we repaired to his home office, equipped with one state-of-the-art IBM Selectric for Chris, and an elderly electric typewriter whose particulars I can't recall, but I can tell you that when you hit a letter, a key rose up on a slender, curved metal type bar, which struck an ink-soaked ribbon, making an impression of the chosen letter on a piece of paper. In that pre-iPad age it wasn't quite a quill pen, but close.
Chris shook two copies of the list from the envelope so we could get to it. "It's divided up by state and city," Chris said, "but we can ignore most of them. Met another writer - a pro - coming out of the Guild office who was nice enough to give us some tips."
I fanned the pages. "Skip everything but Los Angeles, right?" I guessed. We were newbies, but not so new that we didn't know if you wanted a book agent you stuck with New York City and if you wanted a film agent, you stuck with Los Angeles.
"Narrowing it down to LA isn't enough," Chris said. "The guy told me that the only agents worth a fuck are In The Loop?"
"What's The Loop?" I asked, naturally enough.
"Basically, anything within a thirty-mile radius of SAG headquarters," he replied. (SAG is the Screen Actors Guild.) "He said by contract the actors get more bennies for any shoot outside that area, and the other unions basically follow suit. So that's where any agent worth a shit hangs his toupee."
"Another thing," Chris said, "he warned us that just because an agent is what he called 'A Guild Signatory,' and is 'In The Loop,' doesn't mean he's any good. First red alert, he said, is if they are ready to sign you at the drop of the fucking hat. They're just churning for scripts, hoping to come up with a winner. Second - and this was the biggest caution - is that if anybody asks you for money, tell them to fuck off. They are crooks. No fucking exceptions, he said."
I laughed. "An easy lay that asks for money is to be avoided," I said. "Sounds like somebody's uncle talking."
We got to work: dividing the list, then narrowing it down; first by zip code, then by the Agency's comments - if any. More than a few said they weren't taking on new clients. Much later, we learned that actually meant they would only consider writers recommended by somebody already in the business. All of them discouraged phone calls. They wanted a query letter, and if they liked the letter, they'd graciously permit us to send samples of our work. And we'd go from there.
PAUSE SCENE FOR
BUNCH & COLE'S HANDY-DANDY
QUERY LETTER GUIDE
Here's the query letter format that Chris and I used with great success to land both a Hollywood agent and a book agent. It's also good for publishers.
The query letter should consist of No More Than One Page. And on that page there should be three crisp paragraphs. No more. No less.
1. A brief, exciting description of your project.
2. Why you are uniquely qualified to write it.
3. Ask whether you can send the script, with an accompanying treatment; or if a book - sample chapters and an outline.
Now, sit back and try not to chew your nails too badly while waiting for the hoped for positive reply, be it by e-mail or snail mail.
RETURN TO SCENE
Chris said, "I think we oughta send a query letter to every single swinging dick and dickette."
I agreed."Writers' Market says you're supposed to approach them one at a time. That's bullshit. We'll be old and past it before we get to the end of the list."
And so that's what we did: A mass mailing of query letters, but with each letter tailored to what we could find out about the agency. In the following weeks, some positive replies trickled in.
Quite naturally, they wanted to see some script samples. Here's where the mass mailing idea turned up a flaw in our cunning plan. In those Neolithic times there was no such thing as a home printer or copy machine. Unless, of course, you had a spare 10 grand handy - which is what a printer cost back then. According to my handy-dandy inflation calculator, that'd be $38,909.73 in modern currency.
Bottom line: if you wanted copies you were at the mercy of print shops, which charged anywhere from 12 cents to 15 cents a page.
Your average movie script is a hundred pages plus. That was minimum fifteen bucks a copy, plus a Suitably Fancy Cover (more on that boneheaded notion of ours down the road), which would run another five dollars, making it twenty dollars. Getting out my inflation calculator again, that'd be $72.80 in today's bucks. Now, each agent would need samples of three or four movies. So that means... Well, you get the idea. A whole mess of greenbacks for what would more than likely be a turndown.
Fortunately, right about then I got a gig on the side writing a car repair manual for the Chevy Nova for Peterson Publications and was able to hold up my end of the expenses. (I'd been recently divorced and after alimony and child support was clipped from my paycheck I was broker than a sailor after a two-week toot - but without the fun.)
So, you can understand that we greeted every positive response with mixed emotions.
"Fuck me, Cole," Chris said one particularly successful day."Any more agents say 'Yes, please send samples of your work,' I'm gonna have to hock my bike."
His Z1 had been tricked out by the guys at Russ Collins ' Speed Shop. Collins, for those who aren't students of motorcycle history, held the speed record in the quarter mile for eleven straight years - breaking his own record each of those years. He raced to promote his after-market shop.
Chris' ride was a project motorcycle for Big Bike Magazine, which he edited.
And in return for keeping it goosed up with the latest go-fast technology, Chris let Collins' lads bolt on new shit and run his bike through speed trials every month or so.
In short, it was his pride and joy and for him to talk about hocking it demonstrates just how desperate we were the day my phone rang at the City Desk and the guy on the phone wasn't calling to threaten one of my reporters - or me - but to say that he was an agent and he'd liked our scripts so much he wanted an actual face-to-face meeting with the not yet legendary writing team of Bunch & Cole.
I had to stall him a tad because Chris was in Vegas on assignment for Rolling Stone covering the Bike Show.
Chris and I were both writing pros, but we had taken divergent paths to get there. After the Army, Chris had been saddled with the sort of bullshit jobs soldiers home from the wars have been stuck with since - well, forever. A stint as an architectural reporter for McGraw Hill. A foray into the Underground Press - Open City and The Free Press, among others. Then into motorcycle magazines. And finally into magazine freelance. Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. The various motorcycle magazines. Life Magazine. Rolling Stone. And even the magazine for the California Highway Patrol - I shit thee not.
Meanwhile, I'd gone a straighter route, working my way up the ladder at a series of Southern California dailies, until I was City Editor, then Wire Editor at The Outlook - a Santa Monica -based daily newspaper.
Another bit of Bunch trivia: While in Vegas for the bike show he ran into his old buddy - and Rolling Stone colleague - Hunter Thompson, the legendary Gonzo Journalist. He was there living the events that would become Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Chris set Hunter up with a rare Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle to ride during his visit. Hunter later acknowledged Chris' help in the dedication of that book.
After some fairly insistent dialing - and making false use of my newspaper credentials - I finally caught up to Chris. I told him about the agent's call and the request for a meeting.
"Where's the guy's office?" was the first thing Chris asked.
Naturally, I'd double checked the address. "Beverly Hills," I said.
"So it's In The Loop," Chris said.
"Looks like it."
"I won't be back for at least a week," Chris said. "I'd hate to lose the deal making the guy wait."
"No problem," I said. "I'll give him a call, say you're on assignment for Rolling Stone. Which sure as hell won't hurt our Creds. Then, I'll set up a solo meeting."
Chris said go for it, and a couple of days later I climbed aboard my Suzuki and headed out.
Like I said, the agent's address was in Beverly Hills. That should have been gold, but when I got there, and made the turns as instructed, I suddenly found myself in some kind of factory district, with buildings pocked by busted out windows and guarded by razor wire and junk yard dogs.
Obviously, he was stretching the Beverly Hills connection a wee bit.
I finally found the address marking a little cottage on a huge gravel-covered lot. This couldn't be it - could it? Double-checked my Thomas Guide. (Expedia with a cover and pages) Yep. This was the place.
Went to the door, crossing a small porch with sagging floor boards.
A harried-looking guy answered, glanced furtively up and down the street, then hurried me inside.
It was the agent.
The office was set up in the cottage's living room and he hustled me over to his desk and asked me to relax for a minute while he finished what he was doing. To my amazement, he was addressing a big stack of Christmas cards. Mind you, this was in early February.
He grimaced when I looked at the stack. "Running a little late this year," he said.
I wanted to say, "No shit," but thought it unwise.
Then he called out over his shoulder, "Honey, can you get our guest some kind of refreshment."
I saw a door open and you might imagine my surprise, Gentle Reader, when a lady with long blond hair, wearing nothing but a pair of sheer bikini panties, stepped out of the kitchen.
The first thing I noticed was her rather amazingly enhanced tits. The second thing was her bush, which was as blond as the hair on her head.
And the third thing I noticed was this big damned lion standing next to her. I suppose it was actually a lioness, since it didn’t have a mane.
I suspect my reaction was typical guy: tits and bush, and then - oh, shit a lion. Not - oh, shit a lion, then the chick.
So now I was stuck there, wondering what to look at next - the lady, or the lion. For some reason I couldn’t turn my head away. And the guy was saying that this was his wife and "our pet pussy cat."
The might-as-well-be naked lady smiled and said, "Why don’t you come into the kitchen and pick out what you want."
In my confusion, I suppose I wondered if she was offering herself, or the lion, but I only gobbled, "Thanks."
What I really wanted to do was get the hell out of there, but I didn’t have the nerve to flee. What if they set the lion on me?
Anyway, I squeezed past the lion - the lady saying, just give her a shove. Which I sure as hell didn’t do and then I’m in the kitchen, and she’s got the fridge open, bending over and showing me everything all the way to China, and the lioness sidles up to me and starts sniffing me like a dog. I almost pissed my pants, Gentle Reader.
Soon as I could, I got some kind of a cold drink, retreated to the office and eagerly accepted the agent’s invitation to come along with him to the Post Office. He said we could talk while he drove.
The moment I got outside, I mumbled some kind of an excuse, jumped on my bike and peeled the fuck out of there just as fast as I damned could.
Obviously, Chris and I crossed the guy’s name off the list.
And no, we didn't get the script samples back.
NEXT: JACK KLUGMAN AND THE KO KIDS
Can't wait to read the blog each week? No problem. Click the following link and buy the book.
Tales Sometimes Tall, but always true, of Allan Cole's years in Hollywood with his late partner, Chris Bunch. How a naked lady almost became our first agent. How we survived La-La Land with only the loss of half our brain cells. How Bunch & Cole became the ultimate Fix-It Boys. How an alleged Mafia Don was very, very good to us. The guy who cornered the market on movie rocks. Andy Warhol's Fire Extinguisher. The Real Stars Of Hollywood. Why they don't make million dollar movies. See The Seven Pi$$ing Dwarfs. Learn: how to kill a "difficult" actor… And much, much more.
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STEN OMNIBUS TRILOGY
MAKES ITS AMERICAN DEBUT
Well, my American publisher – Wildside Books – was listening and is issuing all three omnibus omnibus volumes on this side of the Atlantic. Sten Omnibus #1 was published
last month. Sten Omnibus #2 debuts this week. Stay tuned for the publication for Volume Three.
THE TIMURA TRILOGY: When The Gods Slept, Wolves Of The Gods and The Gods Awaken. This best selling fantasy series now available as trade paperbacks, e-books (in all varieties) and as audiobooks. Visit The Timura Trilogy page for links to all the editions.
NEWLY REVISED KINDLE EDITIONS OF THE TIMURA TRILOGY NOW AVAILABLE. (1) When The Gods Slept;(2) Wolves Of The Gods; (3) The Gods Awaken.
A NATION AT WAR WITH ITSELF: In Book Three Of The Shannon Trilogy, young Patrick Shannon is the heir-apparent to the Shannon fortune, but murder and betrayal at a family gathering send him fleeing into the American frontier, with only the last words of a wise old woman to arm him against what would come. And when the outbreak of the Civil War comes he finds himself fighting on the opposite side of those he loves the most. In The Wars Of The Shannons we see the conflict, both on the battlefield and the homefront, through the eyes of Patrick and the members of his extended Irish-American family as they struggle to survive the conflict that ripped the new nation apart, and yet, offered a dim beacon of hope.
LUCKY IN CYPRUS:
A True Story About A Boy,
A Teacher, And Earthquake,
Some Terrorists And The CIA
LUCKY IN CYPRUS is a coming-of-age story set in the Middle East during the height of the Cold War. An American teenager – son of a CIA operative – is inspired by grand events and a Greek Cypriot teacher.
He witnesses earthquakes and riots and terrorist attacks, but in the end it is his teacher’s gentle lessons that keep him whole.
Here's where to get the paperback & Kindle editions worldwide:
Here's what readers say about Lucky In Cyprus:
- "Bravo, Allan! When I finished Lucky In Cyprus I wept." - Julie Mitchell, Hot Springs, Texas
- "Lucky In Cyprus brought back many memories... A wonderful book. So many shadows blown away!" - Freddy & Maureen Smart, Episkopi,Cyprus.
- "... (Reading) Lucky In Cyprus has been a humbling, haunting, sobering and enlightening experience..." - J.A. Locke, Bookloons.com
NEW: THE AUDIOBOOK VERSION OF
THE HATE PARALLAX
What if the Cold War never ended -- but continued for a thousand years? Best-selling authors Allan Cole (an American) and Nick Perumov (a Russian) spin a mesmerizing "what if?" tale set a thousand years in the future, as an American and a Russian super-soldier -- together with a beautiful American detective working for the United Worlds Police -- must combine forces to defeat a secret cabal ... and prevent a galactic disaster! This is the first - and only - collaboration between American and Russian novelists. Narrated by John Hough. Click the title links below for the trade paperback and kindle editions. (Also available at iTunes.)
THE SPYMASTER'S DAUGHTER:
A novel by Allan and his daughter, Susan
After laboring as a Doctors Without Borders physician in the teaming refugee camps and minefields of South Asia, Dr. Ann Donovan thought she'd seen Hell as close up as you can get. And as a fifth generation CIA brat, she thought she knew all there was to know about corruption and betrayal. But then her father - a legendary spymaster - shows up, with a ten-year-old boy in tow. A brother she never knew existed. Then in a few violent hours, her whole world is shattered, her father killed and she and her kid brother are one the run with hell hounds on their heels. They finally corner her in a clinic in Hawaii and then all the lies and treachery are revealed on one terrible, bloody storm- ravaged night.
BASED ON THE CLASSIC STEN SERIES by Allan Cole & Chris Bunch: Fresh from their mission to pacify the Wolf Worlds, Sten and his Mantis Team encounter a mysterious ship that has been lost among the stars for thousands of years. At first, everyone aboard appears to be long dead. Then a strange Being beckons, pleading for help. More disturbing: the presence of AM2, a strategically vital fuel tightly controlled by their boss - The Eternal Emperor. They are ordered to retrieve the remaining AM2 "at all costs." But once Sten and his heavy worlder sidekick, Alex Kilgour, board the ship they must dare an out of control defense system that attacks without warning as they move through dark warrens filled with unimaginable horrors. When they reach their goal they find that in the midst of all that death are the "seeds" of a lost civilization.
TALES OF THE BLUE MEANIE
NOW AN AUDIOBOOK!
Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969
In the depths of the Sixties and The Days Of Rage, a young newsman, accompanied by his pregnant wife and orphaned teenage brother, creates a Paradise of sorts in a sprawling Venice Beach community of apartments, populated by students, artists, budding scientists and engineers lifeguards, poets, bikers with a few junkies thrown in for good measure. The inhabitants come to call the place “Pepperland,” after the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” Threatening this paradise is "The Blue Meanie," a crazy giant of a man so frightening that he eventually even scares himself.
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