Caveat emptor, baby

Step right up, friends! Have I got a deal for you!
Step right up, friends! Have I got a deal for you!

I knew going into this round of sending out query letters that my chances of success were slim at best (which could also be said about trying to establish a career in screenwriting in general).

No big results to report so far, but there’s been a very interesting development. One that all writers should pay attention to.

I’d sent the query out, and a few hours later received this email (details deleted so as to ensure privacy)

“Dear Paul,

My friend and business associate XX (the manager) forwarded to me your query (SCRIPT TITLE) in case you might be interested in my consulting service (website).  XX and I worked together (I as a studio executive at XX, XX as the producer) on the film XX, starring XX.  My service offers you my experience having worked with countless writers during my 35 years as a studio executive.  Here’s what I do:  I analyze what you have written – in this case your screenplay – from a creative standpoint to start with, and if I feel its quality and potential are apparent and strong, I will try to attract for you an agent or manager.  I will also develop a strategy to sell your work and will offer it to producers, a director or cast in order to position the material for acquisition by a financing entity such as a studio.  My fee for this is modest by industry standards, and it will depend on how much time I judge it will take to do my job.
Please let me know if this triggers any interest on your part.

Trigger interest it does, but probably not how you intended.

There’s a lot in here that just feels…awkward, and maybe a little predatory?

-“I analyze what you have written from a creative standpoint“. Checking out this person’s IMDB page, not counting some current in-development TV work, their last credit was in 1998, and the rest were in the early 80s. Checking the website, their bio touts some high-profile work, including being a member of the Academy’s judging committee and “a high level evaluator of screenplays” for one of the top-tier contests. Giving them the benefit of the doubt on this one.

-“and if I feel its quality and potential are apparent and strong“. With opinions about scripts being so extremely subjective, this person could like something that nobody else does, and vice versa. And if the script still needs work, the website claims they’ll “assist in giving you creative direction.” I can kind of accept that.

-“I will try to attract for you an agent or manager.” Which is how this whole thing started. Is there any chance it might be the manager I originally sent to? Also note they will “try”, so it’s not guaranteed.

-“I will also develop a strategy to sell your work and will offer it to producers, a director or cast in order to position the material for acquisition by a financing entity such as a studio.” So…you’d put a package together? I’m still learning the business aspects, but this sounds like what an agent would do, which makes me wonder if you get a percentage. This comes across as very pie-in-the-sky, make-your-dreams-come-true.

I also noticed that all the testimonials on the website are all raves about this person’s help with each person’s script, but not one mention of anything beyond that. Nothing about somebody getting representation, selling a script, getting their script to the studio level, or being produced as a result of working with them. It would be nice to see something that goes beyond the script consulting phase.

-“My fee for this is modest by industry standards, and it will depend on how much time I judge it will take to do my job.” Since I’m not familiar with this aspect of the industry, what exactly does ‘modest’ mean? A few hundred? A thousand? No matter how much, it doesn’t sound cheap. Prices are only available via email. And what about this whole “depends on how much time I judge” part? What if it takes longer than expected? Doesn’t it always? Do I have to keep paying if nothing’s happening? And what if the whole thing falls through in the end?

For all I know, this person is totally legitimate and could be exactly what some writer out there needs. But to me, it just feels weird. You shouldn’t be paying for career help anyway. If your material’s good enough, they’ll find you and be willing to help.

A moment of evaluation and introspective

Certainly a lot of things to...ponder
Certainly a lot of things to…ponder

Whoo! What a week this has been. Lots of goings-on on several fronts. Big picture stuff first.

-The semifinalists were announced earlier this week for this year’s Nicholl. 149 in total, out of somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,500 initial entries. Turns out I know at least 7 of those writers on a somewhat personal level, whether it be through social media or from actual physical contact.

I am equal parts thrilled for and jealous of all of them, but also made sure to send each a note of congratulations. They definitely earned it. And several of them have made it to this point before, and probably will do so again in the future, so that means the rest of us have to really step up our game.

Watching this as a non-participant definitely puts things in perspective. I didn’t enter any contests this year, so I can’t even begin to speculate how my script might have fared. It’s been a major effort to work on improving it to the point that I like to think it’s good, possibly even really good (he said, trying not to sound totally biased), but how would it do in a contest, especially one of this magnitude? There are no delusions of grandeur, but who doesn’t daydream about grabbing the top prize? Jittery nerves and lofty ambitions all at the same time. Only way to find out is enter it next year and hope for the best.

-Operation ManagerQuest continues. Fingers firmly crossed that all the research, fact-checking and list-assembling will result in something positive. Thanks to everybody who’s offered their good wishes and support.

Although this time is all about the western, I put together and sent out a handful of queries for the fantasy-adventure. Since those were sent to places that might be more interested in that kind of thing, each letter was customized for its designated recipient. Queries about the western will go out next week.

-As things continue to wrap up for the western, focus is shifting to what’s quickly evolving into a total rewrite of the outline of the mystery-comedy. Not gonna lie. This is the one that grabs people’s interest and attention, so we’ll see what I can do with it.

While the overall plot and concept remain the same, several new ideas, angles and approaches are being developed that I sincerely hope will make it better.

Not a bad week. Hope it was equally, if not more productive for you.

Don’t let this cool, calm & collected exterior fool you…

...because this is what's inside
…because this is how I’m feeling on the inside.

The hunt for representation is underway. Again.

But this round feels quite different.

Maybe this is the experience talking, but my best guess would be that it’s from taking my time and reminding myself there’s absolutely no need to rush through it. These folks aren’t going anywhere, so taking a few more days to properly prepare won’t make much of a difference.

But it is making a huge difference for me.

I’ve got two exceptionally long lists of names and emails, but each is several years old, which requires some admittedly exhausting investigating through multiple levels of IMDBPro into how accurate and up-to-date the information is. Don’t have a subscription to it? You should.

Time, determination, patience and persistence are the four essentials in this scenario.

A lot of time has been spent tracking down where some of those names have ended up. While most are still at the same organization, a good many have moved on. Some to new places, some who’ve gone out on their own, and, from what I can gather, some have totally abandoned ship (including one guy who fell into the deep end of the cliche pool and now sells real estate).

My favorite one so far has been the manager who passed away several years ago, yet is still listed. Just their name and nothing else. I’ve no doubt that at this very moment, somewhere out there, a query email is working its way to them.

The last couple of times I sent out a massive wave of queries, it was in a very rushed and impatient way. “This has to go out NOW!” After finding an email address, I’d immediately cut-and-paste the body of the letter and hit ‘send’. Nothing else. I’d estimate about 75% of them went through, while the remaining 25% came back as ‘undeliverable’ or “address not found”. Those would be immediately dismissed. Over the next few days and weeks, maybe a few responses would trickle in; say 1 for every 10-15 sent. Not the best of returns.

But again, this time it’s different as I’m trying to be been much, much more thorough. Do they even accept queries? What sort of material do they specialize in? Sending to someone who specializes in horror would be a waste of time for both of us. When was their last project? Have I heard of any of their projects? How many clients do they have? What are some of their clients known for? (One place lists Rod Serling(!) as their top client. Interpret that however you want.) They still use Hotmail? Is that even still a thing?

So while I spend part of my time developing a workable list of query letter recipients, I’m also focusing on assembling the actual letter that will be sent. Type ‘screenwriting query letter’ in any reputable search engine, and you get page upon page of links to articles, columns, blogposts and so on. There are countless opinions about what should and should not be in there. Pay attention to those. I tend to favor short and to the point, but effective enough that it gets you noticed and hopefully piques their interest.

It’s pretty likely I’ll crank out a few drafts of this as well before finding one that I think works best.

Like writing the script itself, it ain’t easy. None of this is. But it’s what I have to do in order to make things happen and move ’em forward.

(And if anybody knows a manager they’d recommend or think might be interested in taking a look at my stuff, feel free to point them in this direction. Much obliged.)