All grown up

Jul 15, 2002  •  Post A Comment

For Cori Wellins, reading scripts for fun is a lot better than nervously reciting lines at a casting call.
A former child actor, Ms. Wellins, now 31, prefers slipping out of the limelight and has put her all-consuming love of reading to work as a literary agent at the William Morris Agency.
The onetime actress, who guest-starred on “CHiPs” at age 10 and appeared in several made-for-TV movies, has studied at Cambridge University in England and acted in Shakespearean plays there.
During that summer study period in England-between her studies in UCLA’s arts program and her role in the 1990 movie “Arachnophobia” (playing the neighbor’s plucky daughter Becky Beechwood)-Ms. Wellins found herself at a crossroads.
“When I was close to finished at UCLA, I thought I’d get really get serious about studying acting through Shakespeare in a summer program at Cambridge. But when I got back to [Los Angeles] I went through a whole pilot season without one audition,” Ms. Wellins said. “I was barely an actor by the time I graduated. I was kind of burned out, and the world had changed a lot since I was a child actor.”
However, not long before graduating Ms. Wellins approached her agent, Joyce Stevenson of Herb Tannen & Associates, about doing a UCLA internship for school credit with the talent agency. Once her internship was done, Ms. Wellins found breaking into a career behind the cameras in the TV business was as hard as casting calls as an actor. Ms. Wellins got her lucky break in 1995 when she got a callback from William Morris TV agent Sol Leon, who suggested she “try out” as an assistant. “I don’t have much in the way of physical talents, but I’m a really fast typist, about 110 words per minute, so I guess that put me in good stead,” she said.
Since her promotion to literary agent, Ms. Wellins claims to read every script submitted from WMA’s client-writers, often reading 10 scripts over a weekend and as many as 30 scripts in a week. Ms. Wellins said she has a “completely neurotic tendency” to make her own notes on the covers of every client’s script and log the coverage analysis in her computer database. She said she felt it was her “duty” to get to know each client’s writing style and past work.
“What has helped me the most in reading all of these scripts is getting to know and understand where each of our clients’ writing voice and style comes from,” Ms. Wellins said.
Her intimate knowledge of William Morris’ writer roster has also helped a number of notable movie screenwriters make the transition to television, and has helped a number of unproven scribes get jobs on established network series. Working with the agency’s theatrical department, Ms. Wellins was able to help Gary Scott Thompson, screenwriter of the 2001 movie hit “The Fast and the Furious,” sell an untitled NASCAR auto racing drama pilot now in development for NBC.
She also played a hand in getting notable long-form TV producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the duo behind the top-rated ABC movies “Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows” and “Annie,” to helm a new action-adventure series called “Veritas” for ABC’s midseason schedule. Among the relative newcomers, she helped John Serge secure a staff writing job on the ABC treasure hunt drama “Push, Nevada” (from Ben Affleck and Sean Bailey) and helped actress-turned-writer Kira Arne (“Normal, Ohio”) land on the staff of NBC’s highly anticipated “Mister Sterling” midseason 2003 drama.
“The best thing about this job, if you look at the clients I work with, it is such a diverse roster-it goes from [UPN’s] `Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ to [CBS’s] `Judging Amy,”’ Ms. Wellins said. “I never want too many clients who are similar in writing style and tone, because I remember what it was like when my agent had three girls with blond hair, blue eyes and freckles competing for the same roles.”