THE LAWYER THING
R.D. from Texas asks:
A producer told me (at the Austin Film Festival) that if I can’t get an agent, I should get a lawyer, so I won’t be an unsolicited writer. I have found some verification for this, but I’m not exactly sure how it works.
Do I still represent myself, or does the lawyer do it?
What are some guidelines for narrowing down the very long list of attorneys?
All of my work has placed in contests, and I have done a lot of work on it since then. I would like to approach producers without the routine snub (assuming that loglines, synopses, etc. are up to high standards).
So how does the “lawyer” thing work? — Thanks!
There are a number of myths floated by Hollywood insiders in order to stem the overwhelming deluge of unqualified (i.e. crappy) scripts. One is that producers do not accept unsolicited scripts because they fear potential liability. The other is that producers do accept unsolicited scripts from lawyers. The truth is, liability has nothing to do with it and producers do not accept unsolicited material from lawyers any more than from anyone else. Most producers only accept material based upon some indicia that considering it is worth there time.
Here’s how lawyers sometimes fit in. There are some lawyers in the entertainment field who build contacts and reputation just the way agents do. These lawyers can send scripts to companies because the companies know they will not ordinarily send crap. Even they do not send the material unsolicited. Rather, they attorney picks up the telephone and make a call to a development executive he or she knows. The attorney discusses your material and, if requested, sends it over. This is no different than what an agent does. Like an agent, this kind of submission is based upon personal relationships. By virtue of the attorney’s reputation, he or she has contacts in the industry. The trick for the writer is finding one of these lawyers as opposed to the many lawyers who are willing to “submit” your script, but still never get it read. Just having any attorney send an unsolicited script is essentially no more likely to get it read than sending it in yourself.
Because you have won some contests, some attorneys who do submit material may be willing to speak with you. Some of them tend to be a little more accessible than most agents. You will need to query them just as you would an agent. Or, better yet, get a referral. If you have the email of the producer you met in Austin, ask him for the names of some lawyers you should speak to. See if he will actually refer you. (It is much easier for a producer to refer a writer than to actually read a script.) Even if he will not, when you approach the lawyer, use the producer’s name as the basis for your contact.
Here’s where to be careful: you should not pay a lawyer to send in your script any more than you should pay an agent. Lawyers that actually do submit scripts charge in the same way agents do – that is, only if the script sells. The going rate is the same as an agent’s rate – 10%, although some attorneys charge more because they are acting as agent and lawyer for the writer. You should be careful to select a lawyer in the same way you would be careful to select an agent. (Producers do not accept scripts from unknown agents, either.)
The only exception to all of the above is in the occasional circumstance where a producer actually requests your material. The “liability” myth is so often repeated that even some producers believe it and, even when they agree to see your material (which happens because of some other connection – a recommendation from a film professor, a mutual acquaintance, a chance meeting at a film festival, etc.), they want a lawyer to submit it if you don’t have an agent. In that occasional circumstance, you can have any attorney that regularly represents writers send it in, even if the attorney is not known for submitting material.
Enough. Now go write….