A client recently emailed me that he was attending an event with a huge screenwriter and asked my advice regarding the situation. I jokingly replied “Are you asking me how to greet and converse with another adult?”
Clearly, the client was wondering how he could utilize this meeting to advance his writing career. I’m glad this happened, as I was able to reiterate that his screenplays were not ready to hit an agent’s desk. He knew this but still didn’t want to miss out on a perceived opportunity. Rest assured, there was no opportunity passing the writer by because there was nothing for him to sell!
Screenwriter Josh Olsen (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) wrote a popular blog entry about this called “No I Won’t Read Your Fucking Script”. I would suggest Josh wasn’t upset at his friends who needed his professional feedback before turning in a studio assignment, but at the droves of unrepresented writers who routinely ask him to check out their latest abomination of a spec in the hopes he can get it into the right hands. Remember, if a writer doesn’t have major agency representation, there’s about a 99% chance their material is NOT ready for the market. This has nothing to do with writing talent, simply that the writer hasn’t completed their screenwriting education yet (and the vast majority of that 99% never will). I’m sure Josh Olsen would be happy to give feedback on material where the writer knew what they were doing but statistically, writers soliciting him to read their stuff are really saying “please teach me how to write”. And he’s too busy for that, which I guess is good for me since that’s my job as a consultant–to evaluate your writing in terms of not just the script you’re working on, but to also identify elements of screenwriting education that you haven’t learned or haven’t instituted in your work.
But let’s assume you do know what you’re doing. How do you handle the people in your contact file who can theoretically be helpful to your career?
PRODUCTION COMPANY CONTACTS
Keep it fast and professional.
You aren’t going to befriend some executive who calls to request or pass on a screenplay. Any attempt to be memorable will make you seem memorable AND crazy. Don’t worry about sending Christmas cards or “staying on their radar” unless you know them well. Don’t try to friend them on Facebook. Put the energy into becoming a better screenwriter. If they send you a friend request, that’s another story.
Keep their contact info and when you have a new spec, email a query. If it’s a year later, you might want to confirm they still work there by calling the company mainline. If they’ve moved on, ask for the name of who took over the position and send it to their attention.
Before you even write the screenplay, why not gather some feedback? This is the best way to determine if your concept or logline has value. Remember, this email should hit all the major points of a good query letter.
Why spend a year writing a script that a professional can shoot down in two sentences of an email response?
FRIENDS AND FAMILY IN THE INDUSTRY
One of my clients has several fraternity buddies who work in the industry. Turns out he can get some heavy hitters on the phone but realized while his friends were powerful (I was impressed), they didn’t refer his script out to agents or managers.
He was smart enough to seek out help (me) before approaching them again.
Even if you have someone who can read your script and give feedback, it’s important you learn as much as you possibly can on your own and take the hint when you’re being turned away.
There are a few things a friend or family member who works in Hollywood can do for you. Again, I suggest learning everything you possibly can before relying on this person, as they are not going to take you seriously if you turn in a script that doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. And you only have one shot. Turn in a bad script, they may never look at your stuff again.
Here’s something fascinating I’ve learned: Your personal relationship does not mean they will be honest with you. They live and work in Hollywood and are well trained to say, “It’s a great script, I just can’t be helpful to you because…” They are trained to say this as it limits potential resentment in the future. In my book, I have a subchapter called HOLLYWOOD DOESN’T PASS, THEY JUST DON’T CALL BACK. Same reasoning applies.
If you do have a friend who claims to like your script, ask this person if they are friendly with any literary agents at CAA, WME, ICM, Paradigm, Gersh, APA, Original Artists, etc and can have your screenplay covered by the agency. That way if the coverage comes back positive, agents will be very happy to read it. They’re ALWAYS looking for hot new clients. But if they can’t pull that off, chances are your cousin/former neighbor/ex-hookup probably can’t do much to help you in terms of development.
But if they can get your script to an agency or studio coverage department, the rest will take care of itself. If the screenplay gets good coverage, an agent will read it and if they agree, they’ll call you. If not, they won’t. It’s simple.
One last thing–see if you can get a copy of the coverage! Trust me, the bottom line brutality of agency coverage is unlike ANYTHING you can buy on your own. Honesty that honest is not for sale anywhere.
GAGING THE RESPONSE
Remember, an industry professional is unlikely to say your writing sucks. But if they actually stop at page five, listen to their thoughts. Do they spend most of the time giving tips on format? Or do they avoid getting specific about your script altogether? If so, thank them profusely and get your ass to a class or consultant because you have a lot to learn before you approach your industry friend or the industry again.
Interested in having me evaluate your screenplay? Check out my website www.hireahollywoodexec.com