Photo: Aaron Buchsbaum
University of Southern California fraternity brothers Aaron Buchsbaum, 25, and Teddy Riley, 24, first began writing together while bored in the back of a business school class.After graduating, what began as a means of distraction in a classroom turned into a full-blown obsession.
Buchsbaum, who quickly got a job as an assistant to “Night at the Museum” director Shawn Levy and Riley, an assistant to Justin Bieber‘s manager Scooter Braun, would write after hours, from around 9 p.m. until 1 a.m.—and then wake up and do it all again the next day.
But the lack of sleep was worth it.
Last month, after the boys showed their first screenplay—”El Tigre,” an action comedy about a family vacation gone wrong— to their bosses, it was passed on to major Hollywood studios, where it became an instant sensation.
The script, in which a father is mistaken for Mexico’s most ruthless drug lord, quickly became the subject of a three-way bidding war between Sony, Paramount and MGM. Eventually, Sony won out and the writers pocketed a six-figure paycheck.
Then they quit their day jobs and crossed their fingers that this isn’t beginners’ luck.
Aaron and Teddy met in 2005 at USC, where they started writing together while bored in a business school class.
Teddy: We met at USC.* We were in a fraternity together. We both grew up in the same neighbourhood in Los Angeles and know all the same people, but for one reason or another, never met.
Aaron: We started writing in the back of our Operations Management class in Business school. We'd pass a laptop back and forth while our professor rambled on.
Teddy: He had one of those voices that was just too easy to ignore.
Aaron: It was the perfect environment for creative writing.
Teddy: We're thinking of auditing his class this year while we write our next project.
*Disclosure: Aaron is a friend of the author.
Aaron: The next day, even that night, we got hit with a wave of emails and phone calls. Somehow the script had leaked to every rep imaginable.
Teddy: Our strategy from the get-go was to take every meeting. It was our first time doing this. We wanted to be completely confident in the decision we we're about to make.
Aaron: Unfortunately, we needed to make a decision asap because the script was spreading beyond our control. We did breakfasts, lunches, dinners, drinks, 2nd drinks... it was non-stop. Trying to balance work with those meetings made for a very stressful two weeks. At a certain point, our bosses agreed to give us a chunk of free time each day to take additional meetings.
Teddy: After we picked our representation (Mark Ross and Ida Ziniti at Paradigm, Michael Lasker at Mosaic, Attorney Jeffrey Frankel), the ball started rolling. Everyone pulled up their sleeves and immediately got to work. It was incredible to watch.
Aaron: By that point, even more people had gotten a hold of the script. We were getting messages from friends, friends of friends, random people on Facebook, girls we hadn't heard from since college, literally EVERYONE.
Teddy: To the point that some of our assistant friends who worked for these companies were emailing us, asking 'Is 'El Tigre' yours?!' And we were just like, 'How the hell did you get a hold of that?' It was crazy.
It became a three-way bidding war between Sony, Paramount and MGM for the script—eventually, Sony won.
Aaron: So we went out with it that Tuesday and got our first offer the next day. The bidding war was orchestrated entirely by our reps. We had very little to do with the actual negotiation process. It was one of those situations best left to the professionals. I just remember running out of my office every 20 minutes to get updates from our team.
Teddy: I was working from home that day, so I was literally pacing around my apartment, couldn't eat, just waiting for the phone to ring.
Aaron: Thinking back now, I probably should have taken the day off. I've never been so unproductive.
Teddy: As the day was coming to an end our reps began throwing all these numbers at us. We needed to make a decision right away. I just asked random questions to stall them so we could process what was going on.
Aaron: Once all the facts were laid out and we finally understood what was going on, we pulled the trigger and went with Sony.
Teddy: The money from the sale should hold us over for while. The next step professionally is to write non-stop. We're crazy hungry right now and looking to hit the ground running.
Aaron: We have a number of original ideas that we're hoping to develop, but we're also open to collaborations with production companies and studios on projects that may already be in the early stages of development.
Teddy: We find that we work well with others. Our writing technique is very collaborative and we'd like to take full advantage of that in the upcoming months. Collaborating with directors and talent is one thing we're both really excited about.
Aaron: Long term, we hope to create a brand for ourselves. We'd like to explore directing and eventually start our own production company.
So how much exactly did the young writers make? And what percentage of the six-figure sum do they get to keep?
Teddy: Disneyland? Haha, I don't know, that's a great question. Our Jewish mothers have taught us well. I think for the most part we intend to save, invest, etc. I personally need a new car because my old one (R.I.P.) was totaled a couple months ago, so it's pretty perfect timing.
Aaron: We used to joke about driving a motorcycle and sidecar to meetings. We're still talking about whether or not it's entirely logical, but I'm convinced there's no better way to make a great first impression.
Teddy: The next chapter is making sure 'El Tigre' is made and taking on new writing assignments, be it original or studio/production company project based. We're ready to work our asses off.
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