Tuesday, November 17, 2009


You've relaunched your blog?

Yes, I blogged for a year (2006-2007) and then put the skids on when my tenure at ICM was coming to a close and a new chapter of my career at William Morris began. The turmoil involved in leaving ICM was part of a precedent setting lawsuit and didn't leave me with much of a desire to blog. Since that time, I've produced two movies and survived the biggest merge in Hollywood talent agency history. I've had a well-rounded education in the last two and half years, and I hope to share some of it here.

Your questions and comments are welcome at:

theinsidepitch@sbcglobal.net - any of which could find their way into this blog.

While I will ocassionally blog about things that amuse me (just for the sake of my own sanity), I will include reader questions every so often in entries I refer to as the MAILROOM. This entry makes number thirteen. You can go back and read the previous twelve editions of Q&A.

Sometimes I'll jot down random thoughts and title it BUCK SLIP - that ubiquitous pad of scratch paper that litters every desk in every talent agency.

I will also include guest bloggers when I get lazy or someone wants to contribute.

I haven't been able to land an agent or manager and I'm thinking about starting a management company to market my own work. Any suggestions?

If your work isn’t good enough to earn the respect of a reputable agent or manager, I suspect that even you won’t be able to help yourself. I suggest you keep writing and improve your craft. When you’re ready, you’ll find representation.

Over the years, writers have tried all sorts of cockamamie things to get their scripts on to desks all over town.

A few years ago, a manager came forward and announced he wasn’t who he claimed to be. Like something from a romantic comedy, a struggling screenwriter had created an alter-ego - a literary manager - to market his own screenplays. But the dual identity eventually got out of hand. He confessed to the industry in a letter. In part, here’s what he said:

I adopted a geographically undetectable accent, formed a new management company (legally), listed it in the HCD, introduced myself to D-folk through a series of cold calls, distributed my new script, then suddenly found myself besieged by requests from hopeful writers for representation. I already had one client - me - whose work I felt merited attention, but, knowing how much other quality talent was floating around out there due solely to a lack of representation willing to take a chance on an unproven client, and knowing firsthand how hard it was for "new people" to break down the doors and get their material read, I determined to seek out and nurture nascent writers and help to give them a shot as well. I figured that I was in a rather unique position to judge good writing - after all, I'd been doing just that for years in my sundry employment capacities around town, and believe that writers are fairly adept at gauging the quality (or lack thereof) of other writers' work - so I sifted through the bushels of chaff flooding my mailbox to come up with a few bits of wheat worth bringing to your attention.

As the manager, to conceal his identity, he never met anyone in town – only spoke with them over the phone. Instead, he would go out as the client-writer (using a nom de plume). He continued:

I didn't do any of this to be sneaky or underhanded; that was never my intention. As I came to know many of you, I truly did feel terrible about deceiving you, even on the minor level at which I was doing so, and wished I could have told each and every one of you what I was doing and why I was forced to do it. I wanted to set up meetings as “the manager,” do lunches, drinks, host parties, schmooze and network, all those fun things, but ultimately felt it was more important to protect my anonymity and the chance to continue getting my writing in front of the people who I needed to see it. I also didn't want to lose the opportunity I'd established to receive genuine feedback on my submissions; as you know, one often tends not to give the most straightforward or unabridged opinions of a script when talking to the person who wrote it, so keeping a certain level of anonymity was an invaluable tool for receiving constructive, no-holds-barred feedback and reactions to all the work I submitted. Please don't feel duped in any way by that aspect of my "scheme"; I never held anyone's opinions against them, took negative criticism personally, or let an adverse response prevent me from submitting other material to anyone's company. On the contrary, I listened appreciatively to each and every one of your comments and took them to heart when working on subsequent projects, or passed them along to my clients, when appropriate, who also absorbed and appreciated them.

A simple little idea took on a life of its own. He was eventually forced into revealing the truth when he was pressured to appear as both the manager and client simultaneously – something that was physically impossible. (In the screenplay adaptation, he would have hired an actor - and fallen in love with him.)

But he isn't the only writer who has tried to outsmart the town.

When I was at ICM, I got a call from a friend at a management company who was angry for having wasted his time reading a script that I recommended. He had a letter from ICM that stated his screenplay was well received by my office and that a client had attached to it. The title was vaguely familiar to me but no clients were attached to any such project. I checked my records and found a copy of the letter my friend had. It seems a writer took a “pass” letter and doctored it to appear quite favorable – even twisting the words around to say that our client liked the project very much when, in truth, he had passed. My friend faxed over the forged letter. I brought it to Business Affairs and within an hour, the writer had a “cease and desist” letter on his front door.

Although he was clever enough to get his script through the door of many places using this method, in the end, he was betrayed by the bad screenplay he had written.

Very recently, I got an e-mail from an ICM lit agent. It seems a writer was dropping my name, explaining that he and I had a relationship when I was there. Now, he was hoping to forge a new relationship with this lit agent to continue the work he and I had started. But I had never heard of him. And told the agent.

I think the creativity and tenacity in these three cases is admirable, in a warped sense of the word. But Hollywood is a big small town. One degree of separation is the norm, and it doesn’t take anything more than a quick phone call or e-mail to seek out the truth.

If these writers had put the same amount of effort into their scripts instead of all the scheming, they might be better off today. As far as I know, none of the three has sold a screenplay.

Let this be a lesson to you.

Don't you think that producers only accepting screenplays through recommendations can be called "discrimination." Sounds like this means they only accept screenplays from friends, or friends of friends...What do you think?

Discrimination is a strong word. If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you’ve learned about my encounter with thousands of Dutch query letters. Agents, managers, producers, executives are bombarded with query letters on a regular basis, and it can be – at the least – time consuming to respond to all. The few screenplays that are solicited through queries are risks, because the producer is taking a chance on the script simply from a logline.

The most efficient way to find material is through recommendations. Because I read a lot of scripts, many of my agent/manager/producer friends ask me for recommendations. “What’s good to read?” “Any good unrepped writers out there?” A recommendation from someone you trust is the easiest and most realistic way of finding writers and material. A reputable contest, for instance (like the Nicholl Fellowship) does the same thing. When the top ten finalists are announced, the big agents in town can pounce. After all, those ten fought their way to the top from a pile of 6000 scripts. It’s a lot easier for the Nicholl Fellowship to wade through 6000 scripts than a busy agent, whose primary responsibility is to secure work for his current list of clients.

Of course, there is the whole liability issue. It’s easy to accept material from people who come recommended or professionals with a credible reputation or those we know because it’s unlikely that they’ll return a year later with a lawsuit in hand when a project similar to theirs sells. There are a lot of wacky, paranoid aspiring writers out there who cry foul ball very easily. The simplest way to circumvent that sort of headache is to avoid it all together. Most agencies, in fact, insist that solicited material come from a recognizable source as opposed to complete strangers.

I’ve seen aspiring writers bitch about the whole process as “job discrimination.” In other words, “If an agent or producer refuses to read my script, he’s preventing me from earning a living.” That’s pretty ridiculous. First of all, there is no job. When a writer queries an agent, it’s a cold call. The writer’s goal is to create a need when one may not exist. An agent may not have any more room for a new client. And he isn’t in the market for one. However, if you have a great idea (for which he thinks there is a market), he might be willing to read your script. If your pitch doesn’t intrigue him in the least, then you’ve failed to create a desire in him. Who’s fault is that?

If I came to your front door and asked to mow your lawn for $15, would you be obligated to hire me? You didn’t put an ad in the paper or even express interest in someone mowing your lawn. If you’re not in the market for a lawnmower, then how can you be discriminating against me?

If you attend a concert with 50,000 other people, do you expect the band members to sign 50,000 autographs? If they choose just a few to sign, is that discrimination?

In a system where the supply far outweighs the demand, there are only a few realistic ways to search for material.

Ultimately, this shouldn’t be about how new writers are victimized by the fortress wall that surrounds Hollywood. It should be about how to get over that wall.

What are you doing to introduce yourself to the people who can help introduce you to the business? Are you churning out the best scripts you can? Are you entering worthwhile contests that can make a difference? (99.9% of all contests will not create a bridge between you and industry.)

For many who don’t live here in town and might only venture in once a year for a conference or Screenwriting Expo, don’t waste time sitting in on William Goldman’s lecture. What the fuck can he do for you? Find out what panels feature young, hungry managers and agents. Do your homework in advance to learn who is interested in working with new writers.

Many new writers use script consultants (another topic altogether). If you’re going to plop down money to hire one, be sure it’s someone who has real industry contacts and will provide entree if the script deserves it. If you're going to get notes, you might as well have the additional component as well.

New writers get signed by agencies and management companies every day. In some cases, those writers knew absolutely no one in town when they started their journey, but with some networking strategies and a good script, they managed to avoid the so-called "discrimination" and hop the wall.

It seems like everyone is writing a screenplay. Is it really that easy? Can anyone write a screenplay?

Sure, anyone can write a screenplay. But just because you’ve written a screenplay doesn’t mean you’ve written a screenplay.

Yes, I believe writing can be learned. And a lot of information can be picked up in books and classes. But there is talent involved. And that is inherent. It’s a gift. That’s why some screenwriters are just better than others. They have a stronger grasp of the dramatic craft and have the talent to successfully execute it. Some writers have a “voice,” a unique way in which they tell their stories. Often, it is the “voice” that captures the interest of agents and managers – even if the particular script is not marketable.

I’ve said in the past that too many writers approach the medium as writers and not as craftsmen. In dramatic writing, a script is built rather than written – since the tension and catharsis are dependent on the way scenes are constructed, laid out and juxtaposed. Because the pool of aspiring scribes is made up mostly of writers and not craftsmen, the failure rate is high and most scripts don't work.

Anyone can sit down and write 120 pages, but that doesn’t mean those pages will create a cohesive cause & effect dramatic story that elicits an emotional response/produces an emotional experience for the reader.

Most scripts don’t – which is why most aspiring screenwriters never rise above their aspirations.

I am one of those Dutch writers who has good ideas. I'm a little disappointed to learn that ideas are not so easy to sell. Are there any professional screenwriters looking for ideas?

Typically, screenwriters develop their own ideas - unless a movie studio or producer comes to them with an idea and pays them to write it. Some pro scribes will write on spec for a reputable producer. Unless you're a producer, Hollywood isn't designed to take ideas from the outside and match them up with screenwriters.

There's not much of a market for just ideas, because it complicates matters.

For instance, let's say you give me (a screenwriter) your idea. I can't pay you for it. I'm just a screenwriter and don't have a lot of money. So, I'll write the script and IF we sell it, then I'll pay you. But how much?

And who gets more money?

If I've written the script - maybe I've invested six months working on it. What's that worth versus your just giving me an idea? And what if the idea morphs and becomes something quite different - something that sprung from my head?

Plus, idea people often get a little crazy - suing because they feel they didn't get enough money. (We're sue crazy in America.)

So, it can get complicated. Most of the time, writers are inspired by their own ideas or ideas that come from a producer holding a paycheck. (The best motivation to sit in front of the blank page is your own idea or a paycheck.)

For some of these reasons and more, most screenwriters are not in the market to take outside ideas from sources unknown to them - like a random idea from an Ohio housewife.

That's not to say no one has ever done it or that it's taboo or won't ever be done.

I don't want to come across like a Dutch uncle. I'm just saying that it's tantamount to looking for a needle in a haystack. (But so is just about everything else in this business.) Most screenwriters who might find interest in that kind of arrangement are probably not professional and, as a result, your bank account will never benefit.

If you have a great idea, my advice is to write it into a screenplay yourself. If you don't have the time, inclination or talent, then you might have to accept the reality that your idea will fester in your head undiscovered by celluloid and unrealized by the world until the end of time.


Speaking of the Dutch query letters: There is a rather ironic ending to the ordeal. It seems that the author of the book "Rich From One Sentence" is not unknown to me.

I met Mr. Ruven last year at a pitch workshop I held.

I was quite surprised when he bitchslapped me with the revelation and a photo to boot! (That's me on the left - looking like Emma Thompson from WIT.)

As it was told to me, after the event on that fateful day, I gave Mr. Ruven my business card and he, in turn, shared it with 16.5 million people in the Netherlands - a simple case of cultural miscommunication. Given the fact that he and I are old friends, it appears as if I might be visiting Amsterdam in the near future.

There's a lot of ideas waiting there for me.


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