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Friday, May 23, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – A Million Ways to Lose Money as a Writer* (P.J. McNeill) - posted by P. J. McNeill

A Million Ways to Lose Money as a Writer

 

What’s the one thing all of us writers have in common?

There are any number of facetious responses to this question, but the serious one is this: at one point or another, someone has most likely tried to get money out of you with the supposed aim of “helping you”. If you’re lucky enough to be able to say “Not me” or even luckier to say “I haven’t given it to any of those who tried”, keep doing what you’re doing; but allow this post to act as a further cautionary tale.

But this is too big for one post. There is no way I can cover the number of ways people have attempted to bamboozle me in the past 10 years in just one post. There is no way I can cover the humiliation, panic and anger that comes with someone taking something you’ve worked so hard to get in just one post. This is going to be a series. I am going to share my personal anecdotes of how I have lost thousands in the past 10 years. And it’s going to be embarrassing. You know why? Because it’s difficult to admit that you’ve been had. No one wants to do that. It makes you look and feel stupid. And it makes others look at you condescendingly, thinking to themselves “Well, that would never happen to me.” But it could. Because it comes in many forms, and it preys off the desperation you can’t help but feel in this business. (I’ve already covered something as simple as the e-mail blast services for query letters. The promise of your query letter in the high-powered hands of hundreds of producers: for the low, low price of $100. It’s just that easy.)

It’s even tougher when you’re green and you don’t have anyone to ask “Hey, is this right?” Let’s flash back about 10 years ago to a younger, greener P.J; before I moved to LA. I was querying my first script and didn’t know a thing about how to do it. I was learning as I went. So, what’s the first thing I did? I used a shoddy e-mail query service. (::coughScriptblastercough::) I was immediately out a hundred bucks and didn’t get a single read off of it. So I started cold querying. And that’s how I met Mr. Eddie Kritzer: an “agent”. (I’m using his real name because the more Google hits Eddie Kritzer gets, the better.) Eddie Kritzer immediately broke the number one rule I would develop later on: Always judge someone by their website. (Says the guy who a couple entries back said not to speak in absolutes. Well, I’m taking a risk here.) It’s hard to “teach” someone how to spot a bad website; it’s really something you have to develop. But sometimes you just look at a website and you get that gut feeling that it’s bad. The organization is terrible…they’re still using Word Art for their titles…or it lacks basic information and just has a lot of flashy language. Simply put: if you have to convince yourself the website looks good…move on.

Mr. Eddie Kritzer personally called me after reading my script. He said he loved it. I asked him what he loved the most about it, and he told me he really liked the ironic ending. “Ironic ending?” I thought, “That’s odd…I didn’t know I wrote an ironic ending.” (I didn’t.) But I was still flattered. Ironic meant smart, right? So I took it as a compliment, not an obvious skirting of the question. He then went into a big spiel that ended with him saying that if I wanted him to represent me, I’d have to pay him $500. I don’t know why, but I distinctly remember sitting in the parking lot of the local Hallmark when he told me this. I guess you don’t forget the first place someone tries to screw you. I’m not going to lie, I came close to giving him the $500. But this story has a happy ending: I didn’t. I did my Google searches, asked a few people “Hey, are you supposed to pay your agent BEFORE they sell your script?”, and came to the conclusion that: No. No, you are not. So I didn’t. I saw Mr. Eddie Kritzer eating a bagel in Santa Monica about 5 years later. It took everything I had not to smack it to the ground.

The next time, unfortunately, I wouldn’t be so lucky, and I’d end losing roughly $400. But that’s another story…

About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile /praise you want to spew?  Email PJ at pjscriptblog@gmail.com. New to P.J. readership?  Click here for more articles!

* Not related in any way, shape or form to Seth MacFarlane

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