In my efforts to improve the landscape of screenwriting consultants out there, separating the true professionals from the vast amount of frauds, I’ve been able to put my previous investigative tools to very good use.
I’ve come to be an expert on deciphering, what I call, “consultant-speak”.
To many folks, consultant speak is hardly noticeable, yet it is usually the one thing the consultant-shopping screenwriter points out as justification for choosing that particular professional; “Hey- he worked with Will Smith on HIS script!” In many instances, it is a decision they live to regret, and that’s when they contact me.
Many of these indicators are “tricks of the trade”- a marketing tool in an effort to beef up one’s experience and claims. If you’re choosing someone to help you, and paying them from $100 to up to several thousand dollars for that help, you want to make sure you are getting what you are paying for.
Here are some of those indicators:
- The “award-winning screenwriter” – This claim means nothing if the specific awards aren’t mentioned anywhere on their site or business profile. There is a huge difference between winning the Nicholl Fellowship or Scriptapalooza, and winning the “Oshkosh Screenwriting, Beer and Brat Competition“.
- “Development deals” – This is an impressive claim, and one might be inclined to take this type of consultant seriously and use them, since this is one of the goals most screenwriting clients have- but are you just going to take their word for it? I would want to know more about these deals, specifically who are they with, the names of the projects, and where they are in the process. Some might want to claim “privacy”, but if a development deal is ten years old, I don’t think privacy is a concern at this point. What if you want to hire this consultant to work with you on your project, but he’s suddenly called away to work on this “development deal” project? If you’re going to CLAIM it, better be able to back it up.
- “Considered to be the best…” – Okay…by whom? Normally, one doesn’t toot their own horn. Others who are pleased with your service are very willing to do so through recommendations and referrals. Check out if the consultant HAS any recommendations to speak of.
- “…has consulted with (fill in major studio names here)” – Again; an impressive claim. Is it true? Has the consultant provided specifics on these projects anywhere – as in, the name of the project, or what did the “consulting” involve? Did you punch up the script, or did you recommend a food catering company at the shoot?
- “Success stories”; “Past Client Successes”; etc. – All consultants like to “brag” some, and why not? They deserve it, if by working with a particular client, that client has gone on to some writing success of their own. Personally, unless I’m told specifically by a screenwriter that my direct involvement in their process led to getting a studio writing job, I don’t take credit for their successes. You never know exactly HOW many other people helped along the way.
I also believe helping one on a specific script is quite different than having said screenwriter attend a seminar in which the consultant spoke at, or a workshop put on by this consultant. There is a popular filmmaker who runs a very successful filmmaking workshop that promotes two or three A-list celebrities as having “graduated” his course. He has received permission to use their names in his marketing, but one has requested that he stopped doing so, apparently believing it’s a bit of a misrepresentation (or he was not getting any fees for the use of his name).
If a consultant makes a career of putting on workshops, for example, where 20-120 or more people may be in attendance, then years later one attendee hits it big by selling a spec script, it hardly seems to be a “cause and effect”- unless, of course, that fortunate screenwriter is openly crediting that workshop consultant. If the claim is missing any of the particulars- like, the writer’s name or the name of the project, or even the production company or studio with which the deal was made, chances are there is no significant “cause and effect”.
In conclusion, these are but a few of the more common descriptors I see on the websites or profiles of some of the screenwriting consultants out there. I’m not at all calling these people “frauds”. I’m simply stating their marketing tactics are transparent, and if you have a healthy cynicism of the way consultants work, you’ll learn what to question. Give that screenwriting “guru” a chance to explain. Just ask. If they can’t, or won’t, give you a viable answer- move on.