POSSIBLE SCAM ALERT- “SCRIPT BUYERS GUIDE”

scamalert  Recently, I was contacted by a screenwriter, well aware of my “Scam Alert” series, who wanted to share an email he received from “Script Buyers Guide”. The “guide” is reportedly a book of script titles and loglines from screenwriters like YOU, packaged and prepared for “major film markets including Berlin EFM, Cannes and the American Film Market AFM.

The author of said guide is unknown at the time of this posting.

This screenwriter friend forwarded me the original email he received back in August 2014. He paid $50.00, for “space in the next printing of the book” where he could advertise his many completed screenplay concepts. He was also told that these books were going to be distributed among those in the industry who “buy screenplays”.

In March, 2015, a full six-plus months after the transaction, he received a free guide, with his screenplay posting on page 154. He later found out that the guide is currently being sold on Amazon, which was NOT what he was led to believe. The Amazon listing was for $19.99.

That’s when he contacted us.

A cursory search of the “Script Buyers Guide” reveals that their website is no longer active. Emails addressed to “Karen Moore” (a name found on the original email ad), and “Steve Howard” (customer service) came back “undeliverable”.

We did manage to find the guide advertised on Amazon for $20, with 172 pages of screenplay titles, brief screenplay description, screenwriter’s name and page count. At $50 a post, with an average of 6-8 posts over the 172 pages, they made a lot of money putting this guide together. It is unclear and unknown at this time IF, in fact, these guides were ever distributed to 30,000 filmmakers- as our friend was led to believe.

“Fifty dollars is not a terrible loss”…our friend said, “…it’s the lies. Distributing a booklet of scripts for sale at film markets is actually a good idea, but, no – these people turn around, make a half-ass book and dump it on Amazon so they can double dip and sucker people on both ends. No one is going to BUY a book of scripts for sale!”

Inasmuch as there is no way to contact this company, one might fear that this was, in fact, a scam, but there is no way to be 100% sure. Someone might want to maximize the monetary take while delivering something much less than what was promised, then repeating this process annually. To date, our writer “victim” has NOT been contacted by ANY producer claiming to have gotten his information through this guidebook.

We discovered, and contacted, a second writer who had received an email regarding this guidebook a few years earlier. He did NOT send them any money, but had reached out to other writers in various screenwriting forum groups inquiring if anyone had any knowledge of the book or the people involved.

To date, he has received no positive response.

Our recommendation would be to NOT spend money on the placement of your screenplay in a guide book, presumably being distributed to producers for free, until you can be assured that this is where the books are going. It is very hard to independently verify that this distribution is even taking place. Putting the book on sale through Amazon is NOT an effective way to disseminate this information; producers are just not going to “buy” a list of available screenplays. In effect, our writer friend paid fifty dollars to have his logline posted in a homemade book, where it is then sold, probably back to those who originally posted their loglines!

Thus far, there have been zero reviews on the 2015 version of the guide.

You would be much better off paying to have your logline and concepts posted in a newsletter like INK TIP, where there is a long record of successful options and sales from their producer database.

We will continue to research this book, the authors and others involved, and periodically check on the website to determine if it ever becomes activated again.

Until then, we recommend…AVOID!

“ASK THE SCRIPT MENTOR”- No. 9

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Appreciates the Advice:

Q- “Dear Geno (The Script Mentor);  I wanted to thank you for all the time and effort you put into providing insightful information to writers. It helps to have guidance, wisdom, and clarity regarding all spectrums, and you definitely cover many of them. To me, you are “Obi-Wan Kenobi” in our screenwriting world! I believe that our efforts are always matched, or surpassed, by the Universe, and that what you are doing will, through karma, be returned to you in a significant way. Regardless of whether you share these beliefs, I am grateful to learn from you, and I am very appreciative for your enlightenment and efforts, as I expressed. The “kindness of strangers” truly resonates with me. Thanks again for all.”

A- I don’t know about achieving “Obi-Wan” status, but I appreciate the kind words! I’m driven only by what I went through starting out, and how, one day, I asked myself “Why hasn’t anybody taken the time to warn me/us about this stuff- the wasted money on useless services, the true motives of some of these “consultants”, what contests are REALLY all about, not warning us about the scams that are prevalent in screenwriting, and- most importantly- how can a producer (or someone else) determine the difference between a PROFESSIONAL script from a newbie’s script? Since I was unable to find these answers, I decide to find them out myself, and instead of hoarding the answers, and perhaps getting far ahead of my peers (the more knowledge one has, the better prepared they are for success), I chose to share much of it.

I appreciate you noticing and acknowledging the time AND effort that goes into doing this, and its comments like these that make me continue the effort.

Questions

Advice on Having Sensitive Information:

Q- “Hope all is well. Just wanted to ask if you have come across a (named casting director)?? He sent me a mail yesterday regarding an audition and working in Hollywood, but after doing some research, I came across some disturbing info. Just thought I’d ask as I you seem to be quite a resourceful person. Speak soon.”

A- I’ve not heard of (named casting director) before, and having done a quick b/g check reveals that “disturbing” information you speak of. Assuming it’s the same person, I must tell you as a former detective, “registered sex offenders” could encompass anyone from child molesters to someone cited for peeing in public! But let’s assume the worst- you’re not a child, and based on your profile picture, I’d be willing to bet you could take care of yourself in an uncomfortable situation through self-protection. So, I’d say it was your call. If I wanted it bad enough, I’d go, knowing I was armed with the knowledge of his past. Some people screw up in life and deserve a second chance. Not saying this is the case here. Just saying an Internet search gives you enough information to make one more aware. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Q- (follow-up question): “Thanks for the advice. Yeah part of me was thinking everyone does make mistakes! I guess the main thing to weigh up was the association with someone with such a past. Do you think it would be a bad idea to bring it to light that I have come across this piece of information?

A- (follow-up response): Maybe if you get the role, and still had some concerns about. He’s probably NOT going to inform you, as he’s not obligated to.

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Career Advice, and The Script Mentor Services:

Q- “Dear TSM: I get the strong feeling that this is NOT a career for an old-timer like me. Although I describe myself as the worst kind of screenwriter, I don’t actually call myself a screenwriter out loud. I would not disrespect the craft as I have not successfully written a screenplay. I am not a poser–at this point I suppose I even aspire to be a poser! So if you can help me, and I think you can, I would like to connect with you. I have a few very good film concepts. But my experience in the ad business producing TV commercials and radio spots tells me that a great movie idea is a long, long way from a produced film. It needs to be an idea with a script and a subsequent pitch that inspires someone with a lot of money to produce it. So my big question is: can you help me get a spec screenplay together, and what does that kind of coaching cost? Your thoughts?”

A: I can tell you that you are never too old to try it- this coming from a 54 yr. old who also started later in life; screenwriting/producing is actually my third career, following one in law enforcement and one in private business in executive management. It’s a long journey, and a craft that you have to learn from the ground floor and up, but we have something the young kids don’t- perspective. Our experience gives us knowledge and information that most of them have yet to accumulate. You have a very specific niche of interest, one that is pretty rare and getting rarer with the passing of each soldier from the Greatest Generation, and the baby-boomers of Viet Nam. While you may not have had field experience (that’s just an assumption on my part), you have studied this topic out of sheer love for it. I’ve amassed a treasure trove of mementos and collectibles on Elvis, but I never met him. Does this make me less knowledgeable on the topic? I doubt it. Actually, you possess a great foundation to do well in this business; you appear to be “mature”, varied life experiences, probably some college, a solid b/g in writing (albeit a different media), and practical knowledge about concepts.You’re absolutely right about a concept being far from a finished screenplay- but, having a good solid concept is the biggest hurdle, by far. Learning HOW to write a marketable spec screenplay is probably the EASIEST part of this venture.

But, here is a fitting cliché: Life is a marathon, and all marathons start with the first step.

What I do in my business is try to impart the wisdom that most people, if they’re lucky, will eventually learn after years of writing and floundering out there without direction, spending money needless on a bunch of unsuccessful consultants, etc. You have to learn what it takes to write the proper spec screenplay, because that’s what we all do.

As I rule, I don’t “teach” screenwriting, per se. I generally point out the faults of a screenplay and suggest corrective measure. Many consultants suggest reading produced scripts off of the “interwebbies” of your favorite movies; I don’t. In fact, I would encourage you NOT to do this, not if you expect to learn the right way. These are produced movies, and 99% of them are shooting scripts, a quite different animal altogether.

I would also encourage you to purchase “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by Dave Trottier, and refer to it daily. I’ve read it front to back a number of times, and STILL learn things (just like the other Bible)!

My mentoring service charges by the month or on an annual basis, and they’re posted at http://www.thescriptmentor.com website. My annual charge guarantees that you will reach a Quarterfinal finish minimum in any one of the 3500+ screenwriting competitions. That’s a huge accomplishment. Who is crazy enough to “guarantee” a certain level of writing success when it involves such God-given talent as writing? THAT’S just how much I believe in this system.

In April, we will be doing a series of online webinars on this very topic- “How to Write the Spec Screenplay that Producers Will Read (and Win a Few Contests Along the Way)!” There will be four sessions, covering four different topics, and it will be interactive between the participants and instructor(s). If you learn some of these keys, in the long run, you’ll save a ton of time, money and sweat equity, avoiding the mistakes almost everyone else learns a bit too late. Armed with these tools, I’d bet you’ll be able to produce an extremely viable first “vomit” draft, and we can go from there!

Hope this helps!

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Marketing Advice:

Q- “Hi Geno! I have been working in corporate affairs for several global companies, for 15 years but have also always had a passion for movies. I have written my second short film script and after more drafts than I care to recall I plan to pitch it and find a director/producer. The idea is to have success with the short, then turn the story into a feature.Do you have tips, on next steps? Thinking if I can get funding from the government but I assume I could pitch it to anyone that loved the idea. Any thoughts appreciated!”

A- Some thoughts based on what you’ve said:

In my opinion, the number one mistake new writers make is marketing themselves, or their projects, too quickly. I would make  sure you have the following in place:

1) The first thing a producer is going to ask is “What else you got?” You have to make sure you have a minimum of three completed projects to show them, to convince them you’re not a flash-in-the-pan and that they can work with you.

2) Has this script been reviewed and covered by professionals?

3) Has you received “recommends” or, at least, “consider”?

4) Has it won or placed high in a number of contests?

If the answer is “no” to these questions, and the concept isn’t so awesomely unique (haven’t found one yet that was), these are the types of writers you WILL be competing with- the ones with several “recommends” and a handful of contest wins. You might be a little outclassed in those terms; like being a rec league basketball player going up against Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

You have one shot at making a first impression, so make it count. There is no rush, unless you’ve been given six months to live. If that’s the case, chuck it all, pack your bags and go to Hawaii!

In the meantime, try and find two or three reputable coverage services, or at least a few pros that can review your short and tell you where it’s lacking. I’m not a fan of shorts, myself; I think they’re a total waste of time; but my first paid assignment was a short, so you have to start somewhere.

What I teach is the key to any spec screenplay is APPEARANCE. If it’s doesn’t LOOK like a professional script, it’s not going to READ as one, and it will be tossed aside. I can usually tell from the title page, and generally the first page, if it has that “look”.

For just a handful of pages, you probably don’t need any analysis, but rather someone just to see if it looks professionally written. If you’d like me to take a look at the short, I’d be glad to do so. You can forward a PDF to thescriptmentor@hotmail.com.

Just make sure you have something else. Generally speaking, one script is not going to get them excited about you.

Good luck!

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Copyrights and Registrations

Q- “Hello, I hope all is well. I will have my first script ready for copyright this week and was wondering what they (prospective producer) need. I went to their website, but I am not sure. I know they need the full script, but do they need the full FINAL script? It doesn’t look like it but I want to be sure. I am still tweaking mine. For my second script, would it be OK for me to send them the 30-page treatment to get the story copyrighted, or do I have to send the entire script? Thank you!”

A- Copyrights and registrations only protect WRITTEN documents. In the case of a shortened script, or treatment or outline, if the main focus of the story is within that document (the “hooks”, as it were), then it should be alright. I don’t see any reason to protect something NOT completed, since you should never be sending out work that is not completed, so there’s no reason to share it at this time.

By the way, in my opinion, the overall thought of having work “stolen” is a total waste of your “worry” time. Very few writers have such a unique story idea that ten other writers- or more- haven’t written about already. Relax. Just get it written, and when the final, FINAL draft is done, register it with the WGA, then send it out for coverage and/or analysis.

Hope that helps! Good luck!

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Is This an Effective Service?

Q- “Hello, The Script Mentor! I’ve been working on my feature length script for almost two years now and over the last few months have been actively trying to sell it. I was wondering if you have ever submitted a script to the website: “The Black List”. I hear it’s the best route to selling a script but wanted to reach out to you and see what your opinion was. Have you ever dealt with this website before? Is it worthwhile? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your time,

A- I appreciate you requesting my advice on this. At one time, it was an honor to be posted on “The Black List”, as it represented the BEST spec screenplays that were NOT sold or optioned. Many well-known movies emerged from the BL after having placed high on this list at the end of the year. The scripts were judged by professional readers entrenched in prodcos throughout the industry, and pretty soon, word would spread on a great script that no one was pulling the trigger on. They devised a point system, and at the end of the year, the Black List was formed of the scripts with the highest points.

In my opinion, it has now turned into just another money-making venture, where you submit your script, get judged by a panel of employees (not necessarily professional readers working in the industry), and you’re given a score.

You also have the option of paying for screenwriting services to “improve” your score. It’s just another money-making service that entices the screenwriter into believing a good score will get you noticed, while promoting services to make additional money. Scoring “high” on the BL does nothing anymore as a result of this change; their judges are no more or less knowledgeable than StoryPros, Script Pipeline or any of a hundred other services.

I am not familiar with the claim that more scripts are “sold” off of the Black List than other sites/services, but I suspect Ink Tip has them beat significantly. Whatever you can afford to have your script marketed, it’s always good to have many irons in that fire. Ink Tip’s clients tend to lean towards budgets under $5M, so if you have a studio-level concept, it may not do well at either place.

My question to you is, are you sure it’s ready to market? Have you received coverage, and if so, did you receive three “recommends”, or at least, “considers”? How about contests- have you won several or placed high in several? If the answer is “no” to any of these, marketing your concept now might be a mistake. You might have a great concept, but when they read the first page and see mistakes, they’ll trash it.

Just giving you a head’s up. The number one mistake of most screenwriters is marketing their stuff before it’s ready.

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What Companies Do I Target?

Q- I am on my first class, 3rd week at a well-known screenwriting program, and my homework is asking for information like what companies would I like to work for? I’d love to write television series but what screenwriter wouldn’t so in the meantime can you suggest anything.

A- To answer such a general question, two responses immediately jump to mind.

The first response would be “any job that pays!”. If you’re working in an industry that you want to work in, doing what you want to do (writing and developing television), than it probably wouldn’t matter which one, at least not initially. In time, if you get that far, you’d probably end up working for a majority of different production companies anyway.

The smarter approach is as follows, though: I assume you have ideas on TV shows you’d like to create of your own (why else would you have gone down this path?), so you’ll want to create a list of the shows that are currently on TV that are similar to your own concept.

For example, if it’s a reality-based competition show like “Survivor” or “Biggest Loser”, you’ll want to research those production companies that produce those shows. Mark Burnett Productions does “Survivor”, The Apprentice”, “Shark Tank”, etc. ; semi-scripted reality shows that feature a competition between the participants.

The same rule of thumb goes for most scripted shows, like dramas and comedies. It’s not often that a prodco will do a half-hour, one-camera comedy…as well as an hour-long political drama.

This holds true for most feature film companies as well. The producer finds a genre they like and excel in and concentrate on that area of expertise. Doesn’t mean the writer may not write a drama and a comedy, but they’ll usually end up going to two different prodcos.

I hope that helps answer your question, and thanks for reaching out. Good luck to you!

Geno

SCAM ALERT- “ECCENTRIC STORIES – MONTHLY CONTEST”

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ECCENTRIC STORIES

Our scam radar (“scamdar”) was alerted recently when we came across “Eccentric Stories Screenplay Contest” in a Craigslist ad (RED FLAG #1).

Eccentric Stories advertises writing contests for ALL of the following categories: Screenplay, TV script, Playwright, Novelist and Logline contests (RED FLAG #2). We’ve yet come across any LEGITIMATE enterprise that successfully operates “contests” for all of these major categories. Two  previously identified scam sites; “WILDsound” and “Screenwriting Staffing”; operate in a similar fashion, and everyone in the industry knows them only as “money grabs”.

Eccentric’s Craigslist listing entices those to “take your chance to be the NEXT Academy Award winner discovered by Eccentric Stories”. Clearly, they are implying that previous Academy Award winners have been discovered by Eccentric Stories however, there is no mention of these previous Oscar winners, probably because they don’t exist (RED FLAG #3).

A review of their website reveals no names of ANY of the principles involved in the company (RED FLAG #4), describing themselves only as “a company run by and for writers and filmmakers”- purposely being vague and ambiguous. They also claim “Eccentric stories (sic) work with some very well known (sic) and effective producers who are ready, willing and able to work with first time and aspiring writers”. Again, they fail to mention a single producer (RED FLAG #5), not to mention failing to capitalize the second word in their own company title (“stories”), and excluding the proper punctuation in “well known” (RED FLAG #6). For a company whose stock in trade appears to be “judging” others writing, errors in their own ad should raise an eyebrow or two.

Eccentric also claims that they will “pitch your script, manuscripts and treatment from your Log Line to companies such as CAA, ICM, William Morris Endeavor, ACME, The Gage Group, etc.”. No logos of these companies sponsoring their site or their contests are anywhere to be found, and no quotes from any of the employees of these companies ever made it to the ad or to the site itself. Just a missed opportunity? Perhaps…but I doubt it.

They go further to claim that they “guarantee the winner representation” (RED FLAG #7). Again, they are ambiguous about the type of representation they guarantee; is it Talent Management? Career Management? Agent Representation? Marketing? Maybe they’ll manage your kid’s Little League baseball team; who knows?

“Eccentric Stories” does have a LinkedIn page, with a listed address of the “United States” (RED FLAG #8) with an email address, but again, no specifics as to who is running this company. Their site currently offers no links to any of these major social marketing sites (RED FLAG #9). The same vague written description found on their website is repeated on their page, and they show that they’ve only been in operation since January 2015. Maybe just more missed opportunities, or a poor job at building an effective website?

However, now they’ve announced their first monthly contest winners: Winning Screenplay: Austin Davies (Houston, TX); Winning Novel: Cheryl Carter-Love (Baltimore, MD); Winning Log Line: Judy Lattimore (Bakersfield, CA) and Winning Stage Play: Marques Sessoms (Atlanta, GA). In our attempt to reach out to the winners to offer our congratulations (and perhaps get some additional information on this contest), we did a basic Google search for the winners. However, NONE of the winner’s names came up matching the spelling as listed and/or the city of residence (RED FLAG #10).

None.

Four people, apparently in the creative arts, yet none of them have a web page, a Facebook account, a LinkedIn profile, a listed telephone number or mailing address, or any internet marketing of their projects (RED FLAG #11). It seems that these four people simply wrote their projects and their one and only attempt at having it read or publicized in any way was through this particular contest!

What are the chances?

Now, there is a chance that, in its infancy, this company hasn’t yet worked out all of its hiccups and kinks. We would certainly allow for some of this oversight, and perhaps plans are being made to better improve the site, the information on the site, and provide more specifics about their contest.

It should be noted that, on several occasions, we’ve reached out to the owners of the site through the contact information provided, seeking additional information. To date, we’ve yet to receive any response (RED FLAG #12).

So, in review, the RED FLAGS are as follows:

1) Advertises on Craigslist

2) Multiple, unrelated contests

3) Unsubstantiated claims of Academy Award winners

4) No mention of any principles/executives with the company on their site.

5) Unnamed “producer” clients

6) Multiple spelling and/or punctuation/grammatical errors in their ad

7) Non-specific “guarantee of representation”

8) Address given: “United States”

9) No links to any other major social sites

10) No listing of any of the four winners selected

11) The winners have no previous Internet presence whatsoever

12) No return contact on multiple inquiries

We would also like to encourage ANY of the four listed winners, should they exist, to contact “The Script Mentor” and share with us their experiences with this contest. If and when they do, we’ll be sure to pass it on to you. Until that time, however, based on all of this information, easily gleaned when spending a few minutes of time conducting a cursory due diligence investigation, we have to believe this site to be just another scam; a “money grab” that you’d be better served to avoid completely.

ASK “THE SCRIPT MENTOR”, No. 7- GETTING REP’ED; MARKETING; FORMATTING

QuestionsQ. My writing partner and I would like to submit our writing projects to Amazon. Amazon like Yahoo and Netflix is currently seeking to add to its staff as writers. The problem we do not have a manager or agent.

Can you recommend someone we could speak to and ask to submit our projects to Amazon?

A. If Amazon is asking for submissions, you may not be required to have a manager or an agent (unless they say this is a requirement specifically). I cannot refer anyone to a manager or an agent if I don’t know them personally, or know of their work, as it is a direct reflection on me and my reputation. I do not have any “connections” at Amazon that could help with this, but that shouldn’t mean you should not pursue it.

If you require a manager (you’re not going to get an agent, so don’t waste your time), find a small boutique agency that might be looking for new talent. I’ve posted several ads to this effect in the past in our group “Script Jobs and Searches” on LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as through our Twitter feed “@scriptjobs”.

Let me know how it progresses. You’ll really want to solidify your marketing materials, namely your logline, query letter, and synopsis.

Good luck.

Q. Needing some advice on investors looking for ADV/touch of SCI/Thriller, screenplays (2), market viable, ready to go… know anyone, Geno?

A. I know lots, but who says they’re “market viable”? Here are some things you’ll need to have IN PLACE before you begin your marketing strategy:

1) Do you have minimum three (3) “Recommends” or at least “Consider” from reputable coverage readers or established cover companies?

2) How many, and which, contests did either of the scripts win/place/show?

3) What feedback have you received regarding logline, query letter and one-page? Are they up to current professional standards?

4) What marketing have you done to date, and for how long?

The answers to these questions will help determine your next step.

I don’t deal heavily with investors to date, but I network like crazy, and they’re out there when that time comes. If you are ONLY looking for the investors, I’d get busy in some angel investor network groups.

I can’t give any feedback on the loglines or queries since I’ve not read them. Usually, when it comes to the lack of interest in a viable, marketable concept/screenplay, the marketing material is flawed.

Since we’re only dealing in generalities, as I know nothing about the story or even the genre, there are two things that you should do to generate buzz and interest:

1) If you believe your script is ready, find a handful of mid-to-upper-level contests with great reputations and start submitting them. You can check my blog at https://thescriptmentor.wordpress.com for more info on contests, which to submit to, what to look for, etc. Don’t waste your money if the screenplay is NOT ready.

The benefit to contests is that many of the judges at the higher levels tend to be agents, managers, producers, studio readers or studio executives. Even if you don’t win, place or show, you will most likely get substantial sets of eyes on the script, which can lead to several great things.

2) The second thing I’d do is to make a list of the movies in the past 5-10 years that were similar to yours: in genre, style, subject matter, budget, etc. Perhaps you envision a certain actor as your lead. I would take this list, go to IMdbPro and start researching these other movies. Like Steven and TC, in many situations, producers, directors, cinematographers and even actors tend to work together over and over again. I would seek out their reps through IMdb and contact them with your story. It’s a needle in the haystack-type of process, but it beats waiting for someone walking up to your door and knocking, looking for a script!

Beyond that, I would recommend networking every day; if you write 8-10 hours a day, you should network another 4-5.

Q. Hey Geno! I’ve used a Flash Forward at the beginning of my screenplay. When returning to it later in the script, where should the scene pick-up from?

A. Does it open with a FF? You can’t flash TO or FROM anything if there is nothing to start from, so make sure this is not the case (many writers incorrectly open with a “flashback” when no present time has yet been established).

Assuming you opened the story in the present, the story would then pick up in the present after returning from the FF. If you opened with the FF, it is incorrect- for this very reason. You don’t know where to return to.
I hope that makes sense. It feels like we’re in a worm hole of time when reading this…

Example: I’m playing basketball, and the script flash-forwards to the end of the game, where I’m seen taking a game-winning shot (we don’t know yet if it goes in), then the script returns back to me on the court, where I was before that flash-forward. I’m dribbling around, breaking ankles left and right, a euro-step, then a shot- the same shot we saw in the flash-forward.

Swish! We win!

I’m a hero; carried off the court on the shoulders of my teammates.

Get it? Got it? Good!

;)

Q. I am really looking forward to entering (Script Title) in as many contests as possible this year, and I’ve already started making a list of contests I’d like to enter.

I’ve always valued your opinion and was wondering if there are contests you think more highly of than others. Which did you enter “Banking on Betty”? Did it win in any of the contests?

A. I can tell you’re anxious and excited at the prospect of (Script Title) doing well in the upcoming contest season. I believe strongly that you have every right to be excited, as it is a tremendous screenplay.

Contests- Everyone has a different opinion on contests, which ones to enter, etc. If you read my blog article series on contests (12/2012), you’ll get an idea of my point of view on the subject, and the best way to do it.

In summary, there are three tiers of contests: upper echelon, middle tier, and the rest. The upper tier includes the Nicholl, which is run by AMPAS (for whom I once worked), Austin Film Festival, Scriptapalooza, and a handful of others, which are often up for debate. I do NOT include the PAGE in this tier anymore since I discovered that first-round readers are not screenwriters, never have written a screenplay, and are basically people hired off of the unemployment line to “read”. This is sleazy, IMO. You’ll need to decide which contests are best suited for you and your script, and I can help you with this.

Always try to submit during the “Early Bird” entry phase, if possible. Why spend $55 on a contest on Monday, when the Friday before, the same contest was $35 or $40? That’s just stupid to me. These same contests come around each year at the same time. Paying the EB price on ten contests can save you over $100. You should.

My screenplay, “Banking on Betty”, won the Story Pros, and was the top finalist in both the “Script Pipeline” and the “Scriptapalooza”. I had another one which was a finalist in the Creative World Awards. In my opinion, Story Pros and Script Pipeline are high second-tier contests, and those contests did a lot of marketing and sending my screenplay out to various agents, managers and producers. Through these reads, I developed a lot of important contacts- as you will as well. By virtue of doing well in ‘Palooza, it gave the script some added credibility, especially having done so in different years. The CWA is a lower-tier, although it’s a cool title. I’ve won over $20K in cash and prizes, but gave away most of the prizes (software and books, etc.) to fellow writers who needed some of these tools.

Q. Because you are my mentor, teacher, and friend- and since it was your job lead that got me this paid adaptation assignment, I thought I would share this with you:

Basically, I’m being asked to decipher each ‘Chapter’ and turn it into a working screenplay on its own. He is planning on producing it himself once it is done. His goal is to have the script done by the end of April. I’m starting on Chapter 1 later today.

Thoughts?

A. Yes, this is going to be a lot of work for you. At the pay you are receiving, probably more work than it’s worth- but, hey- you have to start somewhere! ;)

The bad news is that it is NOT a published book; it’s not EVEN a book, but more of an outline for a book. When adapting a real book into a movie, you take the best 12- 15 scenes from the book and use them to make your movie. The best I see this is a short, as most of it is NOT convertible to a movie script (or, at least, a good one).

The good news is I doubt your client even knows what makes a good script. You could probably take his outline, convert it into a running script, format the text lines properly, freshen up the dialogue, add some connective tissues and filler along the way, and come away with something resembling a screenplay, which is what he wants.

I had a celebrity client in the past who had a horrible script that he wanted finished. Once it was formatted correctly, dialogue improved, placed where it should be, and a few additional things, he thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Truth was, the script was vastly improved, but since the story couldn’t be changed (per the client’s instructions), it was still a horrible concept. Fortunately, I was a ghostwriter on the project and my name was nowhere to be found.

My gut is telling me to tell you to “run”, and in the end, you probably wish you had, but the challenge will teach you a lot, and that is priceless. You will learn to:

1) Write on a deadline;
2) How to respond to someone else’s opinion on what you’ve written;
3) How difficult it is to take direction from someone who doesn’t understand the craft.

I HOPE you don’t have to learn what it’s like when the client doesn’t pay you- because that SUCKS! Anyway, I’m here if you need help with any of it along the way!
Q. I don’t get it. After you win a contest, you presumably have to leverage it somehow. I presume not many opportunities come while you sit on your hands and wait to be called, but most producers do not accept queries from “unrepresented” writers. As you said, trying to get representation at the start is a tough nut. I get the part about networking in person at events, pitch fests, festivals, etc.

Here are two questions:

1) I take it from your statements that you agree with Dave Trottier when he says that agents are a poor way to “reach people”.

2) What resource did you use to find the contact info I requested earlier? You ALWAYS seem to have the answers, which is why I go to you first!

A. I’ve not heard Dave say that, specifically, so I can’t comment on this being attributed to him, however I know many writers waste their time trying to LAND an agent first.

Talent agents are always looking for work for their particular client (presumably “actors”). If you have a project that might be a good fit for their client, I see no reason for you not to try to get them interested in it- but it’s going to take more than just a script. I would never just “blindly” send it to their agent.

Spec marketing is hard, and it requires hours and hours of networking and strategy building relationships. My contacts, such as the ones that led me to the information you were seeking earlier, took years to cultivate, acquire, and maintain. This part of the business does NOT happen overnight. There are books out there that you could get your hands on (Hollywood Screen Directory), but neither of those contacts you requested were in there. For finding contact info, the Hollywood Screen Directory and IMDB Pro are both useful. The more contact options you have, the better. I’m sure there are plenty of folks in the HSD that are NOT on IMdb, and vice versa. However, it takes time and discipline to develop a network as thorough and strategic as the one I’ve built thus far.

IMO, contests and film festivals are the way to start your marketing strategy. You have to create the proper “buzz” for your project to get anyone to sit up and pay attention to you. If you were a finalist in a major or highly- respected second-tier contest, my guess is that agent you are seeking would pay attention and respond in some way.

Q. I hear you, Geno, regarding the difficulties of marketing and networking. Here’s one you’ve probably never been asked before: have you ever heard of any groups or individuals that are associated with alums of M.I.T.?

A. You’re right- I’ve not had that question before. I do have a personal friend from high school who is a graduate of M.I.T. Through my LinkedIn network alone, I discovered that I’m connected to ten M.I.T. graduates involved in some way with the film industry. You have to work at it and network!

ARE YOU PAYING $100 FOR A SCREENWRITING JOB NEWSLETTER?

blue reel As many of you know, I’ve been sharing the results of my investigations exposing many of the unethical businesses and services in the screenwriting industry, chief among them are “screenwriting job” newsletters (and there are several) that charge $100 per annual subscription. They promise “paid” writing jobs, and if you have any interest in these jobs, you MUST pay $100 for the “contact information”.

Recently, one such ad was quoted as follows:

“This will be our 2nd job advertisement with (paid jobs newsletter). Back in March/April 2014 we found 2 (paid jobs newsletter) writers. I am looking to collaborate with a screenwriter who would be passionate about creating brilliant scripts based on actual historical facts and accounts. We can negotiate a suitable pay option that will be based on an agreed payment within 7 days of the production being financed. Pay will be structured on an overall basis of producing a script with revisions, but it will be under agreement signed by both of us to ensure we work together to create an outstanding script. Contact (name withheld)…”

Well, we contacted the original poster of this ad to find out the truth. The fact is, this ad was NOT exclusive to this (paid jobs newsletter) as it was found on Mandy.com. While he admits to granting (paid job newsletter) permission to post an ad in their newsletter, this was his response:

“It’s not exactly correct…what does puzzle me is why they would place the Facebook links, but that said, I have more faith in the applicants from Mandy.com, they’re always my first option anyway…The charge of $100, though, that is extreme, I’m against anything like that and if this is true, I would be honest enough to say “screw (paid jobs newsletter)”! Why post to a site like that when Mandy.com is free unless I have more posts within a specified time, so again, cannot thank you enough for the info.”

So, it’s apparent; not only are the cutting and pasting jobs ads, without accreditation to the original site, but they also alter the ad to make it appear that they are in exclusive contact with the client (they are not), while also making up a fake endorsement by the unsuspecting client, promoting their services! Little did they know, charging money for ads that are FREE on other websites happens to be a major pet peeve of this client- and he admonishes them for doing it. Not exactly a “praise-worthy” endorsement!

The client DID add, that his company gave them permission to re-post the ad, as they feel the more people know about the search the better- and we couldn’t agree more with them on that point.

Still, if there is ANY doubt about the validity of such claims against (paid jobs newsletter), we took a moment to trace back a few of their posted jobs leads. The asterisk signifies that, as of 2/06/15, these jobs are “less than 1 week old”:

Newsletter Posting Charging $100:
* COMPELLING FEATURE SCRIPTS. We will read ANY and ALL feature scripts, but we are MOST interested in strong female lead scripts. We are a collective group of film-makers, so you must be willing to see your script revised to fit our needs – this is crucial. We will discuss a reasonable fee for your script, if we choose to move forward. Send us your pitch (no scripts yet). SIGN UP FOR PREMIUM FOR DIRECT CONTACT.

Script Jobs FREE Posting: (02/06)
Employer: Ok Films
Salary: Fully-Paid
Apply to: Obaid
We are an International production company looking for full length feature film scripts. If we like your script we can pretty much guarantee that it will be made in a cost effective way. Your name will be attached and we can assure you it will open up new doors. The screenplay should be non-culturally specific. It should contain strong female protagonists and the story must be a romantic comedy.
Serious inquiries only.
Ad: http://www.mandy.com/1/jobs3.cfm?v=62727828

Newsletter Posting Charging $100:
* HIRING SCREENWRITER(S) TWF has over 15 feature, episodic and animation projects in need of writing . We know what it’s like to be a great talent and not have a resume that reflects your skill level so we are open to hear from all writers despite your level of expertise, experience or resume and are willing to pay according to skill level. Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller. SIGN UP FOR PREMIUM FOR DIRECT CONTACT.

Script Jobs FREE Posting: (02/06)
Screen Writer Jobs
Employer: TFW Endeavors
Salary: 680
Apply to: TEHANA F WEEKS
I am producing a feature film in the vein of Juno, Napoleon Dynamite, Moonrise Kingdom etc. and need the help of an experienced screenwriter. Compensation will be fair (at or around the average rate for such a project). The time frame is flexible and will depend on the writing process.
Ad: http://www.mandy.com/1/jobs3.cfm?v=62676846

Newsletter Posting Charging $100:
* TV DRAMA PILOTS. PWFP is seeking completed, hour-long pilots ready for production. Pilots need to be DRAMA. Scripts that take play in WW11 are preferred. We will also look at web-series concepts too. Send pitches and/or online reels. Payment TBD. SIGN UP FOR PREMIUM FOR DIRECT CONTACT.

Script Jobs FREE Posting: (1/26)
ISO SCREENWRITER-FOR-HIRE; TV DRAMA SCREENPLAYS- PAID!
Script Writer Wanted
Compensation: TBD
Perry William Film Productions – Seeking TV Drama Pilot Scripts
We are looking for completed, hour-long television pilot scripts/Screenplay We are particularly interested in material that could be done as either a pilot or a web series. Submissions should be for material that has drama elements. please email us your RESUME or online REEL with your name on. Perry Munoz
Ad: http://chicago.craigslist.org/chc/cwg/4859381063.html

Newsletter Posting Charging $100:
* CRIME/FILM NOIR SCRIPT. PM is seeking crime/film noir feature screenplays. Screenplays should be character-driven. We are keeping the budget low, so looking for scripts that ONLY feature a few characters and locations. Scripts where plot takes place in just a few hours or days are preferred. Principal photography will be done in Asia. SIGN UP FOR PREMIUM FOR DIRECT CONTACT.

Script Jobs FREE Posting: (1/26)
CRIME/ FILM NOIR SHORT SCRIPTS NEEDED!
Script Writer / Screenplay Writer Wanted
Status: Development
Type: Short film
Genre: Crime • Film-Noir
Plumeria Movies
About the job:
Script Writer / Screenplay Writer wanted for an upcoming Indie-Film project to be made of no-to-low budget. The script should be focused on less-number of characters and locations. No other requirements. The film will be made in India, with the help of few sponsors and donations.
If interested, contact at the earliest.
Thank You.
https://www.stage32.com/…/Script-Writer-Screenplay-Writer-W…

Newsletter Posting Charging $100:
* ANIMATION SCREENWRITER, ENGLAND. ONLY apply is you are have experience writing animation TV drama. The animation is a spoof of the characters based from a drama, taking a humorous and satirical angle on modern gang/youth culture. We are looking for experienced screenwriters for a two week period to write scripts for ten 26 minute episodes. Payment will be discussed with those we are interested in. SIGN UP FOR PREMIUM FOR DIRECT CONTACT.

Script Jobs FREE Posting: (1/22)
EXPERIENCED SCREENWRITER NEEDED; U.K. – PAID!
Experienced Screenwriter
Employer: SDMC Productions
Salary: TBC
More Info: http://http://www.sdmcproductions.com/
Apply to: Christopher Kenna
Payment is on a low paid basis.
SDMC Productions are looking for experienced screenwriters to be involved with the writing of a new animation series based on the popular drama series ‘The Endz’. The animation is a spoof of the characters based in the drama, taking a humorous and satirical angle on modern gang/youth culture. We are looking for experienced screenwriters based in Manchester for a two week period to write scripts for ten 26 minute episodes. Please get in touch if you feel interested in the project and you have experience that could contribute to the series.
Ad: http://www.mandy.com/1/jobs3.cfm?v=62581680

As you can see, some of these ads were posted by us over two weeks ago on “Script Jobs and Searches” (https://www.facebook.com/groups/scriptassignmentsandsearches/) and in our LinkedIn group of the same name. We also tweet these posting out to our Twitter followers @scriptjobs. So join and follow us today, and stay on top of the better PAID screenwriting jobs advertised. In doing so, you will eventually help force these newsletter companies to crawl back under the rocks where they came from.

02/07/15 Addendum:

It was brought to our attention that we failed to receive expressed permission to re-print portions of, what was believed to be, a private exchange between TSM and the client. The Script Mentor wishes to apologize for this oversight on our part. We’d also like to further explain that there was NO indication of the (paid jobs newsletter) having “lifted” this client’s particular ad, and no implication of such was done purposefully. We now understand that they were given permission to do so, although no permission was granted in the altering of the ad, or providing contact information through a Facebook page. The client’s feelings regarding the charging of $100 to obtain contact information readily available FREE through Mandy.com are accurate, as are their plans to continue to use Mandy.com as method of choice for advertising future script searches.

TSM apologizes for any confusion.

The Script Mentor

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF WHEN ACCEPTING PAID SCREENWRITING JOBS!

paid-to-write      Many of you have already joined The Script Mentor’s LinkedIn jobs group “Script Jobs and Searches”. As a result, you are probably also following us on Twitter @scriptjobs, and on our Facebook page “Script Jobs and Searches”. We make the daily effort of finding the best (paid) screenwriting jobs advertised throughout the internet, and re-post them in these groups. What separates us from “other” screenwriting jobs newsletters (besides the fact that they charge $100 for “premium” access to many of the same job and contact information that we provide for FREE) is that we provide the link to the original posted ads. Our scripts searches are mostly EXCLUSIVE to our network, as many producers looking for a particular project know the talent within our screenwriting network (over 10K) is wide-ranging, and include some of the best writers in the business.

While we’ve enjoyed hundreds of success stories among our network, taking on paid jobs; sometimes the first paid writing job they’ve ever had; we have heard from a few our members that they landed a paid assignment, but the client hasn’t, or won’t pay as promised. In some cases, this is unavoidable. The ads are original to sites like Craigslist, Mandy.com, Stage 32, Kijiji, Elance, Media Match, Done Deal Pro, GetFilmJobs, etc. and cannot/are not vetted. If an ad is “suspicious”, we take the effort to note that in a comment, or we simply don’t post it at all.

However, there are some things one can do to REDUCE this risk of getting “burned”. So, let me share with you some advice regarding your response to these ads and what you might expect:

1) Very few of those posting through free sites like Craigslist are “serious” industry folk. Some are, but so many are anonymous, you’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s worth responding to.

2) Be realistic about your expectations. A “producer” advertising on a free website, like Craigslist, looking for a writer to write a 5-10 minute short, is NOT going to pay $1000 to have that done. Chances are they are financing the production themselves, and all of the money they have is going to be on screen. Sometimes, however, a free gig here and there leads to other good things, so don’t discount this entirely. For the record, however, we only advertise and promote PAID opportunities.

3) If the gig is advertised as PAID, determine how they are willing to compensate. Getting paid $500 or less for a feature screenplay written from scratch based on their concept, is probably too low for most – but maybe not to everyone. My first paid assignment was for $200- and I ended up rewriting the short six different times. This led to other, more profitable, gigs, as I got something much more important than money with that first assignment: confidence. You accept whatever YOU feel is good for YOU. Don’t worry about what others think; those telling you that you should’ve gotten paid more. We should ALL get paid more, but others, most likely, do NOT know your personal/financial situation. I still take writing assignments, on occasion, that pay less than I’m used to, but the producer may be a friend, or may have an excellent track record, or I feel that gig may lead to even greater opportunities. But, to date, I’ve never NOT been paid for writing a screenplay.

4) If the money is good, and the project is agreed upon, request the parameters of the agreement – in writing! If they hesitate, or claim they’re too busy, then take it upon yourself and write the agreement. Send it to them signed, and request that they sign it and return it – signed. I would advise you NOT to write a single word until the contract is signed.

5) Don’t hesitate to register the screenplay after the first draft, or so. If they do not pay you the balance and refuse to give you a legitimate explanation, “remind” the client that THIS screenplay is registered to you and you alone. If and when they do settle the debt, give them the registration number, and/or have them re-register it under their own name(s).

6) In the case of a paid assignment, request 50% up front. If they hesitate, they probably don’t have it, and if they don’t have it now, they’re probably NOT going to have it later. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for the money (I know how difficult that can be). If you want to be treated as a professional, act like one. Being quick to accept a gig, and “hope” that they come through with the pay afterwards is foolish, and anything BUT professional. You can make adjustments in the arrangement to fit the needs of all parties, but do NOT act like a doormat or you will be treated as one.

7) A true professional concerned about their relationship is not going to screw you over. Don’t think EVERYONE is out to take advantage of the lonely, lowly screenwriter. That’s just silly talk. Do not be OVERLY cautious, and make the client go somewhere else.

8) Most gigs advertising pay of $10,000 on Craigslist is probably NOT a legitimate lead. Check out each and every client your respond to. Ask who they are, what their website and IMdb page is. If they have a number of produced projects, chances are they are trustworthy.

9) Ask fellow screenwriters (or us) if that client is someone we know, and would trust. Ask if they are any red flags to be concerned about. We get group members all of the time who add information on a particular company or ad that gets posted. We don’t work in a vacuum; some of these ads are repeat ads posted from other sites, as the client attempts to spread a wider net.

10) If you accept the gig, let US know that you have, and we’ll promote you as yet another success story from the group. Make sure you meet all of the requirements that THEY are seeking as well, especially in things like due dates, approval of changes, etc. Personally, when I accept a writing assignment, I always offer a free rewrite, providing the basic storyline remains the same. They may want more comedic lines, or deeper character development, etc. Beyond the one rewrite, you should charge for your time.

These are some basic steps that you can take to protect the arrangement from going south. For a working relationship to be a good one, both sides have to feel happy with the arrangement. The last thing you want to do is spend six months writing a feature from scratch, based on a promise to be paid. If they break that promise, you HAVE to be willing to share this news with the masses. Only you can protect fellow screenwriters from getting ripped off, and we will refuse to post any other ads from those people.

DEBUNKING SCREENWRITING MYTHS, PART XVII – “BEWARE OF FALSE PRO(FITS)!”

fpII
One of the services “The Script Mentor” provides to our network (gratis) is collecting and posting various PAID screenwriting jobs AND script search opportunities. We do this through our LinkedIn group “Script Jobs and Searches” (https://www.linkedin.com/groups?mostRecent=&gid=6739059&trk=my_groups-tile-flipgrp), a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/scriptassignmentsandsearches/, and on Twitter (@scriptjobs).

Occasionally, we like to highlight the more “questionable” opportunities, while sharing with you what WE look for in these opportunities when doing our own due diligence.

Recently, a company known only as “Eccentric Stories”, promoted a screenwriting contest through Craigslist. They advertised that it provides their “monthly winners” $500 cash prize AND “guaranteed representation”.

Naturally, this claim piqued our interest.

The “Eccentric Stories” website advertises “Introductions to Agents, Producers and Executives”- seemingly every screenwriters dream- or nightmare, if you aren’t careful. Prominent in the first sentence of their home page is the claim “Take your Chance to be the next Academy Award winner discovered by Eccentric Stories”! Now, we’re ALWAYS wary of any contest or writing service that boosts (as-of-yet) unsubstantiated claims of “Academy Award- level” success, but when told that you have the chance to be the NEXT Academy Award winner discovered, wouldn’t that imply that there was a first one? If so, who was the first one? What was the project? No such back-up information is available, unfortunately.

Another sign of a questionable “contest”, especially one that promotes a writing service in conjunction with the same site, IS the level of writing skill demonstrated on the site itself. This site, for example, has every other word capitalized, and some pretty poor grammar structure and punctuation issues. It looks to have been written by a fifteen year-old girl texting through a smart phone.

The biggest red flag on sites like these is the fact that there is absolutely nobody advertised as being associated with them- no site owners, no website managers, no judges. Nothing. In fact, when we reached out to them – several times – in an attempt to discover who is directly involved in such a site, there has been no response. This fact alone should make writers stop and reconsider before submitting their intellectual property (screenplays or manuscripts) to them, or send them any amount of money.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet this is a website from outside of the United States, which means that even if your project is registered and copyrighted, you have no protection outside of the country. Chances are, you’d never know what would have happened to your project, and you’d probably not be compensated for someone else using it.

There are legitimate services out there that have fostered Academy Award-level material, nominees and, perhaps even a winner or two. In these cases, however, not only do they promote it, it would be on their home page in big bold letters!

While we await any follow-up information from them (we won’t be holding our breath) we would suggest that you, the screenwriter, keep a wary eye for these types of services or competitions; we refer to them as “money-grabs”. Check references; ask questions. If nothing else, ask us. We’ll do what we can to get you the answers you need to make an informed decision.

*Photo courtesy of Worth1000.com.

**No wolves or sheep were harmed in the creation of this image .