How to get your script read by people who have no faith in you?
This article was originally part of the Insider Cinema guide to Hollywood, a website from the mid-2000s. We are reposting it here as both a writing sample and a guide for those seeking to get their foot in the door in Hollywood.
As many of you know, trying to get your script to someone, no matter how good it is, is like trying to scale the Himalayas. Why is this? Well, the fact is there are too many bad writers out there who are producing scripts that are mediocre at best. They are constantly inundated with bad scripts and bad ideas. It’s gotten to the point that some of the larger production companies like Imagine have set up dummy voicemail boxes for fake Creative Executives.
However, there are ways to succeed, despite having little or no “experience.”
So often when one calls a production company or a director’s office, they are told that they do not accept unsolicited submissions. Their standard excuse is for legal reasons, and that they are afraid of being sued if they have a similar project in development. This is bull ****. The fact is if they are really interested in a project, all they need you to do is sign a release form. Plus, film companies are sued all the time. Some films that have been sued include; The Matrix; Amistad; Borat; and many more. Legally, it’s very easy to sue a film for copyright infringement, but very hard to prevail.
- Anyone can file a suit for copyright infringement. However, if a production company comes out with a script, and it has a similar concept to yours, or a similar character to yours, that does not mean they stole your idea. In fact, unless you have a smoking gun, like a memo saying, “I like this character, can we use it and hope the writer goes away?” or something else to that affect, then you have no legal recourse. A film is based on a series of events in a specific order, so you have to prove in a court of law that a series of events were stolen, such as multiple scenes, or multiple characters, or multiple lines of dialogue, or even all 3.
Other times they’ll say they can only accept your material from an agent, manager, or lawyer (again, for legal reasons, and again, bull ****). The truth is they want you to have a representative because they want to know that you are not fresh off the bus and that you have some talent. Having representation when you’re starting out though is really like a certificate of achievement rather than having a partner.
- A common misnomer about agents and managers is that they will get you work, when the truth is that your representatives won’t get you work until you’re established. Even Spike Lee commented, “Agents aren’t going to get you anywhere if you aren’t established.” Often what happens is an agent will like your work, and then hip-pocket you, which means they’ll like your work, let you do all your own leg work, and then keep you on a leash, and then when you’ve got someone interested in your script, he’ll swoop in, have you sign the contract, negotiate and get his 10% (or 15% if they’re greedy). Another tactic is what’s called the Hollywood Shuffle, where they’ll “take 2 steps and do nothing,” meaning they’ll send the script to two of their contacts, and then drop you like a bad habit if they can’t get any traction.
Basically, there’s a reason agents and managers are compared to sharks because they don’t want you when you need them, and then when you don’t need them, they start circling. That being said, if you really want representation, there are plenty of respectable boutique literary agencies listed on the Writer’s Guild website (http://wga.org/agency/agencylist.asp) and plenty of management companies that take on younger writers. They all have their own submission policies too, so be careful how you approach them.
Now, if you want a partner to help support you and push your script, here’s what you should do…
Get a producing partner
Now, I’m not saying you should call Arnold Kopelson (although it couldn’t hurt), but what you should do is before you write a script on spec, meet with several young, well-spoken, and ambitious people who want to produce. Why should you do this? Because if you find someone whom you trust, both creatively, and productively, and you find you’re both interested in a common subject, then you can form a partnership for your next script. This has several advantages:
1. You’ll have a second opinion to help guide you as you write your script.
2. When the script is done, you’ll have someone to help you push it around town.
3. By involving someone in the script this early, you’ll make sure your partner is emotionally invested.
4. You’ll have someone to help you stay on track. Too often writers start working on a script, and
then they lose interest and never finish. Yes, I’m pointing at you. >:( Now, with a producing partner, hopefully, you won’t lose track.
5. Having a producing partner gives you the same validation that an agent or a manager would. It means someone else likes your work and has faith in you.
How do you find producing partners? You can post ads on InsiderCinema.com, or go to film schools. Some film schools require their producing students to find material and develop it, so you’re getting a partner, and the supervision of the school’s professor/mentor to who your partner reports to.
Also, don’t jump at the first producing partner you find. Sit down, meet with several candidates. See what their interests are. How much have they produced? What are their interests? What kind of movies do they want to make? And also ask them to provide phone numbers for references. Don’t be surprised if they ask you for some too.
Now, after you’re done writing the script, just sit back, have your producing partner do all the work, and let the cash come rolling in. WRONG! On to the next step.
Weekend read Mondays
A common misnomer is to never call someone on Monday. The truth is Monday is usually the day that people discuss new business at production companies. Here’s how you do it.
It’s Monday morning, 9 am. The assistants are just coming into work at… let’s say… Imagination Entertainment. The development executives (the people who approve the scripts) won’t be in until 10, or maybe 11 if they spent the weekend partying. The VP of development at Imagination entertainment is Jonathan Slumptyback.
You pick up the phone and call Imagination Entertainment at (310) 555-7825 to pitch your screenplay, “Ninjas In Space.” When you call, sound happy and excited. Sound like the person that everybody wants to work with, friendly. Don’t be mean or stern, because the assistants are the gatekeepers to Hollywood, and they can shut you out if you annoy them. Don’t sound meek, because that makes people think you’re weak or fresh off the bus:
Receptionist: Imagination Entertainment.
You: Good morning, Pat Writer for Jonathan Slumptyback.
Receptionist: One moment. (hold)
Assistant: Jonathan Slumptyback’s office.
You: Good morning, is Jon in?
Assistant: No, may I leave word?
You: Yes, please tell him Pat Writer called.
Assistant: OK, your number?
You: (818) 555-5555. And to whom am I speaking with.
Assistant: This is Alex.
You: Thank you very much, Alex.
By the way, only give out an L.A. number. If you give out another area code, they’ll suspect something. Now, some assistants will simply say thank you, hang up, and put you on the call sheet, so that when the executive gets in, you will be on their list of people to call. Sometimes though, the assistant will grill you. Be confident, be honest, be friendly, and be brief.
Assistant: Where did you two meet?
You: Oh, we haven’t met.
Assistant: What is this regarding?
You: It’s regarding, “Ninjas In Space”
Assistant: And what is “Ninjas In Space”
You: It’s a project I’m working with Rick Producer on.
Assistant: Yes, but what is it? Is it a video game? A script? A comic book?
If the Assistant hasn’t given up at this point, then they’re at the very least curious what the project is, even if she might be frustrated that you’re giving such short answers. So, tell him the logline.
You: It’s a script about a desperate band of rogue astronauts who are trying to stay alive after the government has sent specially trained ninjas into space to bring them back, dead or alive. The twist is though, that the Captain of the rogue astronauts, Beverly Maxwell, had an affair with the Ninja leader, Wong-Shi, and now must join forces or perish.
Assistant: And do you have an agent?
You: No, but I can have my producing partner send it over, and I’d be happy to sign any release forms.
This back and forth dance continues until the assistant finally hangs up.
Now, it’s sad that I have to say this, but:
DO NOT bribe the assistant.
DO NOT intimidate the assistant.
DO NOT flirt with the assistant.
Now, after all this, you’ve gotten on the call sheet for Jonathan Slumptyback. You can probably squeeze out 3 to 5 of these calls before the executives start coming in. Once they do come in, the jig is up because then the assistant can just put you on hold, and ask the executive if they know you. Once they realize the executive doesn’t know you, you’re sunk.
Now, cut to later. Jonathan Slumptyback comes into Imagination Entertainment. He’s had a rough weekend. He finished the weekend read, and read 6 scripts, 2 old ones he has to give notes on, and 4 new ones that were all terrible. Plus, he has a staff meeting that day to discuss weekend read and new business. He’s depressed because he’s been inundated with bad scripts, and maybe he’s desperate because he needs new material to pitch to his boss.
He gets his call sheet and sees you. Now, he may call you right away, or he may call you later in the day, it depends on what the rest of his schedule looks like, but most likely he will call you.
Do you have your own thoughts?
Let us know in the comments!