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!

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