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COMPANY TOWN | THE BIZ

Literary Manager Built Career by Not Following the Script

July 09, 1999|CLAUDIA ELLER

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."

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