THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS

Mike from Raleigh, NC asks:

I am a writer living outside of L.A.– way outside– and would like some advice on how to get a script read.

Some ‘experts’ pooh-pooh the query letter calling them a waste of time. Others claim it is the ONLY way for a first-timer to get his/her work noticed.
Very confusing. Very disheartening.

What is a good/better/best strategy for getting a script read? Query agents? Query managers? Query producers? Win a contest? Buy a full page add in Variety?

In answer, I have a question for you. Why should someone here in Los Angeles read your script when there are thousands upon thousands of aspiring writers all of whom are committed enough to uproot their lives and move out here just so they can be where the people who read screenplays need them to be even though most of them have almost no shot in hell of actually becoming a working writer?

The answer better be, because your work offers something no one else’s work does or ever will: your own very compelling and unique voice. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to get anyone here to pay attention to another run-of-the-mill long distance wannabe. Harsh? Maybe, but this is a very competitive game and the players who actually work regularly are very, very good at it.

Okay. So let’s say your writing actually does reflect a special, unique voice. Now what? The answer is easy – try everything. I’ve said this before and I’m probably not the first to say it, but everyone in the world is only a few degrees of separation from an agent whether they know it or not. Quality writing gets noticed – but the writing really must shine, really must be something special. If it is, you’ll eventually get the attention of someone who can make a difference.

Here are some places to start:

1. Show your writing to people in your own community that can support you in your writing: teachers, retired screenwriters, actors, whoever. If they are excited by your writing, see who they might know that can help.

2. If you respect a screenwriter a great deal, write to him or her and ask him to serve as a long-distance mentor. If he or she agrees, be sure to actually listen to his or her advice and follow it. As a relationship builds, this working writer might just pass your work on to someone who can make a difference.

3. Travel to screenwriting events around the country and make friends with the speakers. It might take a long time before this bears fruit, but it’s another tool in your box.

4. Ask all your friends if they know anyone in Los Angeles. Strike up a relationship with as many people here as you can – even an email relationship. If one of these people reads and gets excited about your writing, or just likes you, they might refer you to an agent, manager, producer, actor or who knows who that can help.

5. Don’t forget about independent film. If your script is appropriate for a low budget quality picture, approach filmmakers in your own community or other communities outside of Los Angeles.

6. Brainstorm and come up with thirty more ideas on how to get your script read and execute on every single idea. It will take that much drive and determination to move forward.

While you’re doing all these things, don’t stop writing. You need a body of excellent work, not just one or two scripts. Finally, every writer gets through the door differently. Keep writing and holding yourself out as a writer until you make something happen.

Good luck.

HOW TO MAKE A MILLON DOLLARS AND PAY NO TAXES

First, you need to make a million dollars….

And here’s a produced screenwriter, member of the WGA, represented by an established agency (according to the WGA website) who thinks he can tell you how to do it. Chris Soth has a new website and is offering a screenwriting course. I know nothing about the course nor about Chris, but he was kind enough to drop me an email and I thought this might be interesting to all of you.

From looking at his website, Chris’s method apparently is based on breaking movies down by their “reels” (instead of by acts) which, actually, was historically the way Hollywood motion pictures were made in the early days. It was all part of trying to make studios run like car factories – but that’s a topic for another day.

If anyone has taken his course, feel free to chime in.

I READ IT FOR THE INTERVIEWS, REALLY

Jasen from California asks:

I’ve been trying to find a decent screenwriting magazine to subscribe to, but I have no idea where to start looking. Would you have any suggestions that I might want to take a look at?

Read what working writers read: “Written By” magazine from the WGA. (Once at the WGA site, click on “Publications” and “Written By”.) You do not need to be a WGA member to subscribe. Annual subscriptions are currently $40. The website publishes selected articles for free.

REWRITERS IN HELL

Here is a very abbreviated version of a question by Rick from Scottsdale:

When you (or anyone) are hired to rewrite a script, is it industry practice to mimic the voice of the previous writer(s)?

In his full question, Rick explains that he was hired by a writer/producer to rewrite two of her scripts. Despite explaining to her what he would be doing to the scripts, at the end of the process, she was incredibly unhappy that he changed her tone and feel. (His full original question is set out below.)

Well, Rick, you got screwed. You had the worst of all possible worlds, being hired to rewrite the work of your employer. How could you possibly have passed that test? All writers know, we hate being rewritten.

To answer your question, there is no standard. In studio circles, writers are ordinarily hired to rewrite based upon their existing work, so the employer knows somewhat what kind of voice they can expect on the rewrite. However, that in no way guarantees the employer will be happy. Development executives really don’t know what they want until they see it. They give notes, but their notes are just a guess about what will work. As every writer also knows, outlines are just outlines and notes are just notes. Something happens in the process of execution that is different from notes and outlines. If you slavishly follow the executives’ notes, you are no more likely to satisfy them than if you simply nod nicely while they give you the notes, then write whatever you think will work.

At the end of the day, you listen diligently, work hard to understand the executive’s point of view, consider the rewrite work you intend to do carefully in light of the employer’s goals for the piece, then execute in whatever manner you think will turn out the best story for the intended audience. Your own ultimate judgment is your best guide.

By the way, congratulations on being hired for rewrite work. That is the meat and potatoes of the motion picture screenplay industry.

For more on rewriting, you may want to check out the Artful Writer.

Enough. Now go rewrite….
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