SimplyScripts.Com Logo

Friday, November 14, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Goodbye Stranger (P.J. McNeill) - posted by P. J. McNeill

Goodbye Stranger, It’s Been Nice

(aka: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish…)

So, I hate to say it, but this is the end of P.J. McNeill for awhile. When I started this, I made a list of things I wanted to discuss and stories I wanted to tell. And for the most part, I’ve told all the stories worth telling; at least pertaining to screenwriting. Sure, I have others, but they all fall under a common theme of things that have already been covered. For example, I’m sure I have more “I can’t believe I blew money on this” stories, but how many of those stories do you need to hear before you learn the moral on that one?

But seriously, if you take ONE THING away from my time writing these articles, let it be to look at your money-spending habits more carefully. Is that film festival really worth it? Do you really NEED to go to that workshop? Is 200 business cards too much? I can’t give a definitive answer on all of these; all I can say is to evaluate them with great care. You shouldn’t be spending more money than you’re making (at least after a certain number of years).

If this is your first time reading anything written by me or you’ve only caught a couple, I urge you to go back and take a look. I’ve covered everything from querying to development to internet trolls, and I think I’ve touched on things most other people don’t. I don’t want to call myself a pioneer or anything, so we’ll just rest on hero. Yeah, hero sounds nice.

I’ll pop on from time to time when I have something important to say, but for now, I’m hanging up my hat. Because honestly, if I kept going at this rate, this column would just devolve into a series of motivational articles. And there’s only so many ways to say “Never give up”, yet some people seem to make careers out of it. If you want motivational quotes, go to Twitter and search #SCREENWRITING. You’ll get a bunch. Here, I’ll do it right now.

Ah, here’s one:

Sometimes it’s the 5th or 6th draft before it starts to get good. Don’t stop. #indie #screenwriting

Boom. Motivated.

Now go write. Because if you’ve learned anything reading my ramblings, it’s that the writing is the easy part. The hard part comes the minute you type THE END.

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.

 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – “Will You Read My Script?” (P.J. McNeill) - posted by P. J. McNeill

“Will you read my script?”

A few years back, Josh Olson, the screenwriter of A History of Violence, wrote a scathing piece for the Village Voice titled “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script”. It was a complex piece with a subtle thesis: I will not read your fucking script. Needless to say, it made waves within the screenwriting community and generated a lot of discussion. Some people thought Olson was a dick (::raises hand::) and some people thought the guy had a point. To be more specific, I did think he had a point, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was being a dick doing it.

What the article failed to acknowledge is that, as budding young screenwriters, there is A LOT of pressure put on us to hustle our scripts. When I first moved out to Los Angeles, I immediately gained a connection to a VERY successful screenwriter. I used that connection simply to chat the guy up, ask a few questions and enjoy the rare chance to talk to a professional writer. Later on, I had coffee with a young producer, who chastised me for not pushing my latest script on him. I told her that I didn’t think it was right to push my script on such a tenuous connection, but she pushed and argued to the point where I came around to the idea. That night, I contacted the screenwriter and asked him if he would read my script. I never heard back. I immediately felt very stupid for doing it, and to this day, regret severing that connection with such a request. I acted as if the guy owed me something…as if I was the ONLY person who had ever met him, and then – within a week – asked him to read something. I treated him like an opportunity, not a person.

It doesn’t help that this is how it’s done. In my very first blog post, I wrote about a guy I knew who gave his script to someone and then watched it get passed around like wildfire, only to end up in the hands of a Sony executive, who then bought it. When you hear a story like this, you can’t help but want to share it with everyone you see. Any person could be your big break. And really, what other option do we have? We have connections or we have cold calling/querying.

I think the problem is two-fold, and it’s on both sides of the equation. First, the person you’re giving the script to: odds are they’re a professional, and doing much better than you. They’re most likely so far gone from the time when they were an amateur, that they don’t remember what it’s like. And most importantly: they don’t HAVE to remember. That part is over for them. Also, a lot of them develop a kind of “I had to claw my way to the top, so you do too” kind of attitude. They forget that, in almost every case, their success was probably achieved by someone doing them a favor. But like I said, they don’t have to think about that anymore.

The other side of the equation is you. The obvious part of your side of the equation is that you probably don’t realize just how many people ask them to read their screenplays. The not so obvious part of the equation is the dream. What is the dream? It’s that nagging little feeling in the back of your head that this – will – be – it. You’re going to give them your screenplay, and they’re going to like it so much, they’re going to pass it to their agent, a producer, an executive, whoever. You may give it to them under the guise that you want “feedback” or you “just want to know what they think of it”, but we all know what you really want. I’ve done it too. You want praise. You want success. You don’t want to hear what’s wrong with it. I’ve had many people ask me to read their screenplays under this guise, and get REALLY PISSED (or break off communication entirely) when I’m mildly critical of it. So you – the screenwriter – must come to terms with what you’re asking for. Because the person you’re giving it to sure as hell knows.

Giving your screenplay to people is a MUST in this industry. It has to be done. But like I’ve always said, it’s better if you treat the person you’re giving it to AS A PERSON, not an opportunity. Be real with them. Don’t hide your intentions under something you don’t really want. And most importantly, if you see Josh Olson, ask him to read your screenplay. Because seriously, fuck that guy.

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.

 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Don’t Feed the Trolls (P.J. McNeill) - posted by P. J. McNeill

Don’t Feed the Trolls

If you’ve ever joined a message board, read the comments on a YouTube video, or really just used any form of social media, odds are you’ve met a troll. Trolls are people who pick fights just for the sake of picking fights. Someone who’s just living in a bubble of constant negativity. You will never win with a troll. It usually ends up being a waiting game to see if the troll will get deleted or banned. And it’s not usually personal because they don’t know you, and the best they can do is hurl vague (yet vulgar) insults.

It’s different with screenwriting. If you’re a screenwriter, and you make your work public (which you most likely will), they’re going to attack your work; which will, at times, feel like an attack on YOU. But then again, some trolls will make it about you to try and get under your skin. They won’t just attack the work, they’ll attack the writing: “You are a bad writer. You are not funny”.

The odd thing about screenwriting trolls is that a lot of them claim to be “just helping”. “Hey man, I’m just trying to help!” you’ll hear them say in defense. And that makes the most sense, right? You always belittle and mock the people you’re trying to help. That’s what makes helping so much fun! Whenever I give to the homeless, I always like to think of a few zingers before I toss a quarter in their can.

The truth is, they’re not helping. Trolls are an infestation of almost every place they inhabit. I’ve seen good message boards turn to shit because a couple trolls hang around, attacking everyone (especially new members). It’s always awful to see a young, new writer post their work, only to be torn apart by a troll. “Hey man, this is how it is out there! Those Hollywood producers aren’t going to coddle you, so why should I?” Oh, shut the hell up. You are not a Hollywood producer. You’re a failing, bitter writer who has to take out their frustrations on the world.

So what can you do to deal with trolls? Well, let’s start with what you shouldn’t do: 1) Don’t yell at the troll. It’ll feel good when you’re typing it out, but it won’t have the impact you’re going for. Remember: you can’t win. Whatever you type will just bounce right off the troll and be fodder for their next response. 2) Don’t try to reason with the troll. Trolls have no reason. They will talk past you, not to you.

So what should you do? 1) Ignore the troll. I really wish more people would do this. Just don’t engage, period. The troll wants attention. If you deny them attention, they will wither and die. Or log off. Either or. 2) Kill them with kindness. Remember the movie Ernest Scared Stupid about a group of trolls that attack a small town and they can only be stopped by Ernest P. Worrell? Of course you do, it’s a classic! Anyway, Ernest figures out that the way to stop them (SPOILER ALERT) is with love. Awwwww. At the end, Ernest grabs the head troll and gives him a big sloppy kiss on the mouth. He disappears and the town is saved. Consider doing this (sans the kissing) with trolls on the internet. I once had a troll attack one of my shorts. It was quite clear from his rant that he had not actually watched the entire short. I was upset, but I responded by thanking him for watching it and saying I was sorry it wasn’t to his liking. To my surprise, 10 minutes later the troll wrote back saying he felt bad, went back, watched the whole short, and loved it. But that is the ONLY time that has happened to me. 9 times out of 10, it’s better to just ignore them.

So, to recap: if you see a troll, just ignore them. If you are a troll, feel free to leave some of that classic troll vitriol in the comments section below. I’m fairly certain if a troll trolls an article about trolling, it would be so meta it would cause the internet to explode. Sure, we’d be out an internet in the process, but we would also never have to listen to you again.

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!

 

 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Is Film School Really Worth It? (P.J. McNeill) - posted by P. J. McNeill

Film School – Is it Worth it?

Should I go to film school?”

It’s a question I’ve answered many, many times; asked by friends, family members, and total strangers. They ask because they (or someone they know) are eager to launch into a career in film. They ask because they worry if the expense (and looming debt) will be worth it. And finally, they ask because I went to film school, and they want to know “Hey, how’s that workin’ out for ya?”

There’s one big asterisk I should get out of the way before discussing film school: My parents paid for my college, in full. I have no debt to speak of and never had to worry about paying any bills. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I was given, and am not ignorant to the fact that the college experience is not like this for everyone. A lot of people have to get scholarships, go into debt, and pay their tuition out of their own pocket. Because of this, some of you might think I have no right to talk about whether or not to go to film school, and you might be right. I can’t say with great certainty that, if tasked with paying for it myself, I would have done the same thing. All I can do is lay out my thoughts on the matter (as always), and you can take them as they are.

First, the hard truths: your BA in Film probably won’t mean a whole lot once you leave. In fact, a friend of mine who moved out to NY told me that “BA in Film” on your resume was shorthand for “Don’t hire me.” So, right off the bat, no one’s going to pat you on the back for your accomplishment. (You can play a game: tell people you’re majoring in Film (or majored in Film), and then see how quickly the interest fades from their eyes.)

Another hard truth: if you fail at film, and all you have left to fall back on is your BA in Film, you might have a hard time finding work. When I was trying to find work NOT in film, I know for a fact people had a hard time seeing I had majored in Film. It was right there on my resume, like a big waving flag: “HEY! This guy doesn’t want to be here! He wants to work on movies!” I remember a job interview for a police department (light office work, not officer) where I let it slip that I wanted to be a screenwriter, but tried to cover it up with “But that won’t impact my job.” I could feel a chill come over the room, and needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

Ok, enough hard truths. The positives:

1) You need connections. If you’re lucky enough to live in NY or LA, great. You can find unpaid work as an intern at any number of places. BIG places too. I remember, when I first got to LA, I was so disenchanted because people who lived out here already had a leg up on me. I was going up against people who worked on stuff like Lost (for FREE!), and the most I had worked on were some small, independent projects. They say this industry is built on connections, and film school really was a great place to make them.

2) You need time to grow and get all the garbage out of you. Film school really can act as a great purging of all the garbage inside of you. All the hitman shorts…all the writer’s block stuff…it all comes out in film school. (That’s why you see so much of the same stuff there.) It also gives you the opportunity to see what other people are doing. Learn from both your and their mistakes. Granted, you could do this with an iPhone and YouTube today (and not spend a cent), but the atmosphere and the application is much different. Workshopping in a classroom is just plain different than the comments section on YouTube.

3) You will be given the equipment and crew to make some truly great stuff. The best short films I made were in film school, and it definitely helped that I had access to amazing equipment and a readily-available crew of eager students. I always tell people: When you’re in film school, treat every-single-project like it will be screened for thousands of people. I saw so many people blow off projects, and I never understood why.

I don’t remember who, but some filmmaker (Kevin Smith or Tarantino or whoever) is famous for saying something like “Take the money you would spend on film school and spend it on a film.” And don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that sentiment.   But I can say this: I needed film school….or the film I would have spent that money on would have been about a screenwriting hitman with writer’s block being called out of retirement to do one last hit. The twist? His last hit…is himself.

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!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Development Hell – Part III (P.J. McNeill) - posted by P. J. McNeill

Welcome to Development Hell

Part III: Game over, man. Game over!

Over the last 10 years, I have optioned nearly every single script I have written. And outside of a few short scripts, I have NEVER seen a feature script make it to production. I have watched each script painstakingly go through the development process, only to fall apart with little to no warning. That means that I’ve done years of re-writes multiple times for multiple scripts, with next to nothing to show for it.

Thankfully, as mentioned several posts ago, I no longer work for free (and you shouldn’t either). My last option that collapsed lasted for THREE YEARS. And think about it honestly: would you do ANY job for three years with absolutely no pay? Sure, I could go on a tangent about how it’s my passion and the joy of writing should be good enough for me, but screw that, I have a family, and three years is a long time. I can’t imagine if I looked back on the entirety of that time and realized I literally had nothing to show for it.

And THAT’S why they’re paying you. Not only for your time (and the time the script is off the market), but for the off-chance that NOTHING happens with your script. If nothing happens with your script and you have no money to show for it, what can you actually say about the last three years (give or take) of work you’ve done? I’ve done $0 options before, and when the years have passed and the project collapses, you look back and realize that is time you can’t get back. And worse, your idea might be outdated by that time. Several years ago, the three year option script was original and had a unique selling point. Now, when I try to pitch it, I get responses like “I’ve had two people try to pitch a script like this in the past couple months.”

The biggest thing independent filmmakers love to fall back on are points, instead of pay. The very first option I had was for one dollar, but man, oh man, did I have lot of points on the back end. I remember feeling pretty damn proud of myself, negotiating the percentage of my points higher than what was originally offered. Unfortunately, the filmmaker held onto the script for a couple years and eventually gave it back to me, thus making my points completely and utterly worthless. You can have a million percentage points, but it’s pointless (heh.) if you don’t end up with a film. (Add that to the fact that even if you DO get a film, those points are probably worthless. Seriously, get cash up front.)

It’s going to be hard to tell people your option fell apart. You know how I said, in the last entry, that you’ve probably told your friends and family, and they’re most likely always asking for updates? Well, now you get to tell those same skeptical people that your project fell apart.   It will come to the point, if you’re like me and have had several options that didn’t work out, that the people you know will become skeptical of optioning/development. It’s like how people get less and less excited with each kid you have. Everyone’s pumped with the first one – sending you congrats and what not – but by the forth, it’s like “Alright already, you can have kids. Hooray. Let me know when they do something worthwhile.” Same thing with optioning. I can see it in people’s eyes now. I tell them I optioned something, but all I see is “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let me know when it’s a movie.”

The biggest fear you will have is people thinking your script didn’t get made because it isn’t good. That YOU’RE the problem. Let me just say: that’s bullshit. It’s not your fault if your script doesn’t get made. There are so many factors at play in securing funding for a film, that it is horribly simplistic to blame it entirely on the quality of the script. It’s not just the good scripts that make it to production. Don’t believe me? Take a look at ANY section on Netflix Instant. If it WAS your script, odds are it was because your script didn’t fit a particular mold. Your script isn’t the type of script you can point to and say “THIS is why it will make money.” And when you’re trying to secure funding, it’s all about finding out what is “sellable” about your script. Your script being “good” sadly isn’t enough. My last story session with the director concentrated more on “what would sell” than what would make for a good story. (Spoiler alert: any scene over two pages – doesn’t sell)

I’m more confident about my current project in development than I have been about any project before it. I would be shocked if I received an e-mail telling me they were pulling the plug. I fully expect it to go into production. Which is great, because they told me I could have 125% of the film’s profits. Suckers.

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!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Development Hell – Part Two (P.J. McNeill) - posted by P. J. McNeill

Welcome to Development Hell

Part II: The Waiting Game Sucks, Let’s Play Hungry, Hungry Hippos

The production company I’m currently working with has (at least) 12 other projects in development; ranging from television to feature films. And only one – count ‘em – one development executive. Granted, he has a slew of interns working for him, but the bulk of the work rests solely on his already heavily weighed down shoulders. So what does that mean for me? It means, when I send in the latest draft of my script, I have to get in line. It might be days, weeks or even months before I hear back. And you, as a writer, have to really become OK with that: the waiting.

One time, I turned in the latest draft of my script, and started the process of waiting. Two weeks later, I received an e-mail from the executive apologizing and telling me it would be awhile before they would get a chance to read it because they just entered production on another film. Production time: TWO MONTHS. That meant, for two months, I was being pushed to the back of the line. (NOTE: So think about THAT when you’re waiting for a production company to get back to you while querying. You know how I’m at the back of the line? Well, you’re not even IN the line.)

Most companies won’t talk in depth about what they have in development, and it is certainly not your place to ask (unless you’ve developed a good relationship with them). You’ll start to wonder where your project ranks. And even if you had the gall to ask them (which you shouldn’t), they’d most likely tell you that ALL their projects are equally important. Which is BS, just like when your parents say they love you all equally. (Spoiler alert: they love your sister more.)

The worst part is that you’ve most likely told your friends and family that you’ve optioned a script. And what do they want? Updates. And why wouldn’t they? It’s exciting, and they’re excited FOR you. But what they don’t understand is that development is a slow-going process every step of the way. Even in the studio system, most films spend YEARS in development, unless they’re the lucky few to be on the “fast track”.

So whenever you’re at a party or a family function and every-single-person opens with “So, what’s going on with (insert script name here)?” and you have NOTHING to tell them, it’ll start to nag at you after awhile; especially as the months go by. And every time you talk to that person, and have no updates to give, you’ll start to see their interest fade and give way to good ol’ skepticism. You’ll try to think of things you can tell them that put a positive spin on it all, but if someone doesn’t understand development, it just sounds like a lot of nothing.

Because of this all, you’ll be tempted to contact the company. Don’t. If they have something to tell you (about your script drafts, the state of financing, actors attached, etc), they’ll tell you. You don’t want to become the needy writer they quickly become sick of working with. Because REMEMBER: you want to keep a good working relationship with them. They just might make your next film. But they won’t if they remember you as that writer who wouldn’t leave them the hell alone. If you do e-mail them, make it short and sweet and only do it EVERY SEVERAL MONTHS. But I really would advise against this, unless you have the type of relationship that merits it.

The best thing you can do – and the thing I even have a problem with – is to throw yourself into something else, like another script. It’s tough though. Having your script in development IS exciting. You want to know what’s going on with it. After all, this could be your big break, and the “green light” could happen any day…in a couple years.

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!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Development Hell – Part One (P.J. McNeill) - posted by P. J. McNeill

Development Hell

Part I: Your Script is Never Locked

                A month or so ago, a reader wrote me with a question pertaining to a production company’s interest in his script. He told me that a company liked the script, but didn’t feel it was quite there yet. The development executive said that she felt it was about 70% there, and that she was willing to work with him to get his script to 100%. (First off, how do you even arrive at 70% as a figure to throw out? What separates a 65% script from a 70% script? Or 70 to 75?) Obviously, she wanted money; for “consulting”. About $500, to be exact. Then maybe, just maybe, they could start shopping the script around. This surprised me, because what she was describing was known as development, and here’s the thing: it shouldn’t cost you a goddamn thing. (Sorry to be crass, but I’m tired of all the blood-suckers, trying to bilk innocent writers out of their most likely already limited supply of money.)

You see, no company is ever 100% when they option your script. There are always going to be changes. They may like your script….they may LOVE your script…but guess what? They want to change it. And don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t make them evil or unable to “see your vision”, this is just how it goes. Some changes will be better than others, some will be much, much worse, but your script will change. And you have to be ready to walk the line. You have to be willing to accept criticism and new suggestions, but also fight for what you think is right. But you have to do this without coming across as “the stereotype” of a writer.

And what stereotype is that, you ask? The writer who is “overprotective of his/her baby.” Get ready to hear that word a lot. Your “baby”. “I know this is your baby, but…” or “You have to be willing to slaughter your baby.” (There’s going to be a lot of graphic, violent imagery associated with your “baby”.)   Every time you speak up, you’re going to have to work extra hard to choose your words carefully, so you don’t sound like a mother looking at their ugly child through rose colored glasses. Because of this you have to make concessions and pick your battles; you can’t defend everything.

When I used to work in copy, my mentor gave me some great advice on dealing with bad advice. Say an executive is giving you a note you don’t particularly like, and you just flat-out don’t see how it can work. His advice: Show them why it doesn’t work…and then have a back-up ready. The back-up being what you really want. It’s not always going to work, but if it is bad enough advice, once it’s put to paper, it just might show through. And if it does, you want something good on stand-by.

But back to the original point: your script is never locked. Let me give you an example: I’m currently in development on a script (hence my month-long hiatus). I optioned the script over two years ago, and once the ink dried on the contract, we immediately began re-writes. I was originally told that the re-write would consist of small changes; a tweak here, a tweak there. One year later, I had a “locked” script. During that year, the script had been passed off to interns, producers, and veteran executives for their impressions. With each impression came more notes. I changed the script a lot during that time, including hacking off the last 50 pages and re-writing them in their entirety. But finally, the “lock”. Everyone at the company was happy. Now it was time to look for a director. But once we got the director on-board…he had notes. And these notes spawned more notes from the producers at the company; because once one person starts commenting, it’s hard to not add something. So it was time for another re-write. And here’s the kicker: during our meetings, the director was flipping through the script and said “And of course, once we get the actors attached, they’ll all have their notes.” And it was then that I realized that this is never really going to stop. I’ll probably be making changes to the script on set if we ever get there.

And you, as the writer, have to be OK with this. You have to approach every re-write as an opportunity to tighten and tune the script. Do I like every change I made in the new draft? No. But I can appreciate that many of the changes I made are solid and have, in the end, benefited the script immensely. I worked with the company/director, not against them. And because of this, I have a new, beautiful baby…that I’m going to have to kill in about two months.

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!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – How Do You Do It? (P.J. McNeill) - posted by P. J. McNeill

How do you do it?

Don’t worry, we’ll get to “Development Hell”. But this is something I’ve been meaning to write about for awhile, and after getting a few e-mails on the subject, I thought it was worth exploring (sooner, rather than later).

So I go on a great deal about querying; about what to say to production companies, managers, etc. There’s a lot of blogs that do that: talk about how to query or how not to query. But few talk about how to contact those you’re supposed to query. These blogs all assume that you just “know” how to do it, and I apologize because I have been no different.

When I got out of film school, I had no idea what to do with my first feature script. They sure as hell didn’t teach it in school, and when I tried Googling it, the results were vague. Why? Why don’t people like to talk about HOW to get ahold of these people? I have a theory: if you tell people your “tricks of the trade”, there will be just that many more sharks in the water. And who wants that? This field is already so damn competitive. So go figure it out yourself. (Or buy their list of production companies, for the low, low price of $100!! *Don’t do that.*)

Truth is, I should tell you. Querying is so damn hard already, and that’s just when you actually get ahold of them. Who cares if you get a slight leg up on finding out how to contact them?

So, here goes. You’ve got a brand spankin’ new script. What do you do? (After you’ve bugged your friends and family for a series of critiques, of course.)

First off, figure out what type of movie your script is and then make a list of others like it. Then, do some research and find all the people involved in making that movie: producers, production companies, agents, whoever. If they made a movie similar to yours (in tone or genre), odds are they’ll be more likely to give your script a shot. But how do you do this? Simple. GET A 2 WEEK FREE TRIAL TO IMDB PRO. I’ve done this on multiple credit cards with multiple e-mail accounts over the years. (Sorry, but that membership is too damn expensive for the small number of times I use it every year.) **NOTE: Remember to cancel it. I’ve forgotten a couple times, and it stings having to pay that membership fee.**

So, you start digging, and you make a list. But now you need to actually contact these people. **NOTE: Leave the big fish alone. Don’t go for studio or large production companies. Go for the mid-to-low level companies. They’re more likely to respond.** Problem is, most of them don’t list their contact information; just an info@companyname.com address. You can use this though. There is a pretty standard structure you can try out to most companies. Let’s say the person you’re trying to reach is John Smith (I’m a writer!). Here’s a few variations to try out:

Smith@companyname.com

JSmith@companyname.com

 John@companyname.com

JohnSmith@companyname.com

                You get the point. Just keep trying until something sticks. You can also try Googling “@companyname e-mail John smith” and see what bounces back. There are ENTIRE THREADS devoted to this on the Done Deal Message Boards. You can also use Done Deal to find out if the person you’re contacting is reputable, so you don’t waste your time.

Once you exhaust your list, you can broaden your search and start querying other companies, managers and agents. Keep it short and sweet. No big paragraphs. Don’t try to be cute and market your film either: “It’s (blank) meets (blank) and will make 52 million”. They just want to hear your logline and maybe a couple other enticing bits. Did you place in a reputable contest? Put that in there. And like I’ve said in previous entries: keep your query blasts small. Only do about 20 a day (if that). This way, you can see what works and what doesn’t. If you’re not getting a hit, maybe you need to change your subject. Or maybe your logline needs work. Don’t blow it by doing 500 in one day.

It’s tough, it’s rarely rewarding, and sometimes it feels downright stalkery. (Not a word.) But for a lot of us, it’s all we have. And most importantly: it works. I promise.

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!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – My Dinner with a Development Executive (P.J. McNeill) - posted by P. J. McNeill

My Dinner with a Development Executive

So, you’ve sent your script off to a production company, crossed your fingers, and now you spend your days religiously checking your e-mail, hoping for a response. (First off, stop that. Forget you even sent it. It can sometimes take MONTHS before you get a response.) Odds are, your script is going to be read by an assistant or unpaid intern. Someone like you. Probably even the same age as you. In fact, they’re probably a writer just like you, with their very own script. (Spoiler alert: they think their script is better than yours.)

If the assistant likes your script, they’ll pass it on to their boss. Who’s their boss? Odds are, it’s a producer or development executive. And their time is precious. They only have time to read the best of the best. (In fact, you might have to make it through a couple readers to get to them.) But when you do, that’s your shot. Wow them, and you’re golden…until they have to show it to their boss: the head of the company. They have to like it too. (The take-away here: your script goes through MANY hands when you submit it to a production company. It can’t just impress one person. It has to be so good that multiple people feel compelled to pass it on.)

But the development executive is your best cheerleader. Odds are, they know what the head of the company likes. They probably wouldn’t have their job if they didn’t. And once you get them on your side, you’re odds of snagging that sweet, sweet option increase ten-fold.

I’m currently in development on my latest script and had the opportunity to sit down to dinner with the development executive from the production company that optioned my script. He was kind of enough to talk a bit about the querying process.

For starters, they are a mid-level production company, making films with budgets ranging from 3-10 million dollars, with theatrical distribution at the studio level. They receive roughly 100 queries a week; so think about that when you draft your query letter. As I’ve said before, making even the smallest attempt to stand out does wonders.

He told me that the worst thing you can do is badger them. Don’t ask them too many questions, what the status of your script read is, or why you were rejected. You’re lucky that they’re even taking the time to write you about your rejection (most don’t), so don’t try and get coverage out of them. He told me the story of one person who just would not let their rejection go and absolutely had to know why he was rejected. The executive gave in and gave the guy a fair critique of his screenplay. The writer flipped out and sent the executive an angry response, cursing him out. The crazy thing was, several months later, the writer actually queried them AGAIN with a different script. Obviously, he didn’t get a read. The exec’s overall advice: a courteous reply goes a long way towards possibly getting another read. Remember: they don’t owe you anything.

Here was my favorite part of the dinner: I asked the executive if he cared if a script started with FADE IN. No. What about parentheticals? No. How about orphans? Do you care about those? No. He said he cares about story. Period. He said he’s waded through some pretty bad scripts, formatting-wise, because the story has shown promise. He said if they like the story enough, they can always option the script from you and fix it up in the development phase. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try hard to adhere to proper formatting, but it is not the be-all and end-all. Your story is.

If an executive rejects your screenplay but tells you they like your writing, keep that person in mind for future scripts. Drop them a quick e-mail, reminding them who you are, and telling them you’ve got something new. Don’t abuse your relationship with them. If you strike out with the next screenplay, it might be time to move on from them. I know it can be alluring: gaining access to an executive’s personal e-mail (and bypassing the assistant), but know when to walk away.

But maybe, just maybe, you’ll beat the odds, get an option and your script will enter development. From there, it’s all cake. Fluffy, delicious cake. Trust me.

Next week’s article: Welcome to Development Hell

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 AT gmail.com. New to P.J. readership?  Click here for more articles!

 

Search with Google

    Custom Search SimplyScripts

One Week Challenge

SimplyScripts Newsletter

    Subscribe to the SimplyScripts mailing list

    * indicates required


    Help Forever Red get made! Got no coin? Don't sweat it, comrade. You can still help by following the campaign on Seed and Spark!

Award Season Screenplays - New!

Featured SimplyScripts Blogs

ScriptSearch

Advertisement

More Navigation

Great Vocab

Latest Entries

Categories

Script of the Day
October 23, 2017

    The Tenderest Cuts by Alexander Brauck (PrussianMosby ) writing as Anonymous

    When a couple rebuffs their sex-obsessed roommate, they set free her inherited psychological craftsmanship.
    Discuss it on the Forum

    *Randomizer code provided by Cornetto.

Advertisement

Donate


Advertisement



Writers I dig

Search Amazon

Search Sheet Music




SimplyScripts Logo