WEBSITE REDUX: GETTING THE SCRIPT OUT...

It really is strange. Well, maybe that’s not the right word. Perhaps “frustrating” would be more appropriate. I conceived my website (http://www.theworkingscreenwriter2.blogspot.com/) as a place for novice screenwriters to visit and get solid, nuts-and-bolts answers to many of the questions they have. The site has been up for nearly two years and it’s become quite popular. Very popular. But sometimes I really gotta wonder: Are folks actually reading the information I have posted on the site? Sure, many are, but there’s always a handful that don’t seem to be paying full attention.

On a fairly regular basis I’ll get an e-mail from someone who writes, “Stopped by your site. Thought it was great. I learned a lot. Oh, can you tell me which brads I should use for my script?” If this person had really read my site, they would’ve found the answer right there in front of them.

Truth is, based on site tracking statistics, and adjusting for the length of time each site has been up, more people visit this blog than the website. Not really sure why that is. I guess most people assume blogs are more informal and less academic. So I guess that makes them more fun. It’s sort of like the difference between Us magazine and Newsweek magazine. With this in mind, I’m going to start posting on this blog some of the stuff from my site.

For those of you who’ve already read through my website—actually read it—my sincerest apologies. But hey, a little refresher of old material never hurts, so...

Q: Whoo hoo! Someone has requested to read my script! But how should I send it—and what should I send with it?

A: First of all, calm yourself. Congrats on getting the request, but it doesn’t necessarily mean much. Sure, they like your pitch and/or your story/concept, but getting them to love your script (then ultimately want to option and/or purchase it) is an entirely different matter. But hey, first thing’s first, right?

So, to send your script: Print a clean copy of the script on 20 lb., 3-hole punched paper.

(You folks in Europe have different paper to deal with. I think you call it A4. Not sure what you use to bind your scripts. If you have a local Writers guild, check with them.)

Check the numbering of your script pages. Are they in sequential order? Are any pages missing? I learned this the hard way several years ago. I sent a script to a well-established producer here in town and the next day I got a call from his assistant: “Where’s page 54?” So I had to scramble and fax the missing page. Not a huge deal, but a tad bit embarrassing.

Bind script with two Acco #5 brads. (Fine, use three if you really must.) If you want to use those little washer things, go ahead. I don’t and I don’t recommend it. (They tend to get snagged in copy machines. Trust me on this—I used to work in the copy room at William Morris.) Those Acco brads will hold your script just fine.

Note: The #5 brads fit a 100-120 page script perfectly; if the brads are too small, then your paper is too heavy (i.e., too thick) or your script is too long. And please...DO NOT use oversized brads and fold them, or worse, cut them. When cut, those things can slice your hand open. Seriously.

NO card-stock cover for the script is necessary. But if you do want to use a card stock cover, use any solid color. Blue, red, gray...nobody really cares (though I’d shy away from yellow or neon pink). Also, if you use a card stock cover, leave it blank. No title, no contact information, no drawings. Blank.

DO NOT send artwork. The only exception I can see to this would be if you’ve written a script about a superhero and if the artwork is really exceptional. I mean, if it’s good enough to get the producer’s juices flowin’, go for it.

DO NOT send props or gimmicks. (Did you hear about the goofball who wrote a script about a bomb squad—and how he sent along a prop bomb packaged with the script? Oh yeah, that went over real well.)

DO include a cover letter. Most producers, agents, managers and development executives receive many scripts each week, so make sure you send a cover letter and remind them (briefly) who you are and what your script is about (again, briefly). Keep personal information to a bare minimum. Nobody cares if you’re a single parent (unless, perhaps, this is what your script is about), or if you spent five years living in a nudist colony (unless, of course, this is what your script is about). However, if you’ve won a screenwriting contest (especially if it’s one of the well-known ones), mention it.

DO address your cover letter personally to your contact (i.e., “Dear Edward” or “Dear Mr. Jones”) and NOT “To Whom It May Concern.” Always thank the agent/producer/development exec for their time and consideration.

DO NOT include a casting wish list.

DO NOT suggest actors or a cool soundtrack.

DO NOT make excuses or apologies for any possible typos or a high page count. They only want to read your script.

RELEASE FORMS: If the producer or agent doesn’t ask you to sign a release form, don’t worry about it. Release forms generally only protect the person(s) you’re sending the script to. Oddly enough, some writers balk when asked to sign a release. Hey, if that’s the prodco’s policy, you have to abide by it. So, you have two choices: 1) sign the release and send it with the script, or 2) don’t sign the release and don’t send the script...and your script won’t get read. Your choice.

Should you include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for the return of your screenplay? Why go to the expense of sending something that’ll probably end up getting lost, trashed, or used for other means? But ask yourself what the purpose is to getting your script returned. Is it so you can save on Xeroxing and send it to somebody else? Sure, it might come back in pristine condition, but chances are decent it’ll be dog-eared, or have coffee stains on it, or have notations on some of the pages. Sorry, but this is not a script you want to re-send to anyone. Do you want the script returned because you don’t want it floating aimlessly around some production company? Seems that would be a good thing. You want your script out in the world! After all, you never know who might “discover” it, read it, and respond in a favorable manner. I say save yourself the time and expense of requesting your script be returned.

Place script in a manila envelope (10” x 13” works best). Mark envelope “REQUESTED MATERIAL.”

Send script via regular First Class mail. No, DO NOT send Fed Ex or Express Mail or anything else that costs a fortune and guarantees your package will get there in six hours. Nobody (usually) wants your script that quickly.

Tip: Here in the United States, you can also send via Media Mail. It'll take a few extra days to get where it's going (a week or more if you send from coast to coast), but you'll save about half off First Class rates. This will save you some money if you're sending multiple submissions. Nifty, eh?

NEVER send your script without querying first and getting the go-ahead to send the script. An unsolicited script can (and will) end up in a pile that goes directly to the trash bin. (I worked security at a big movie studio once upon a time and I’d always see stacks and stacks of unsolicited—and unopened—scripts piled up just outside the mail room.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “C’mon, Jim, does it really matter what brads I use, or if I put the WGA number on the title page, or if my script comes in at 127 pages?”

Well, I think producers, agents, managers, and development executives make a knee-jerk assessment of a script, the moment they get their hands on it. I know I do.

Believe it or not, I can virtually always tell the quality of a script based on certain aesthetic values. If the script is held together with flimsy brads, if the font and font size is all wrong, if the script is as thick as a phone book, or if the WGA registration # is emblazoned on the title page, then chances are quite good I’m dealing with a novice writer who a) hasn’t done their homework, and b) more than likely isn’t capable of writing a viable screenplay. So, by page one, I’m already dreading the experience. This is not the first impression you want to make. The only thing that’s going to reverse this feeling is if your writing is truly solid from FADE IN. If you haven’t captured the attention of your readers in those first pages, it’s doubtful you’ll ever get them back. I think this is generally true. And yes, I know this all sounds really silly, but it’s what you’re up against. Face the fact that producers, et al. have all read a million scripts—most of them dreadful—and they’re looking for pretty much any excuse to NOT read your script (at least not right away). I might be wrong about this, but probably not by much.

My book -- Q and A: The Working Screenwriter -- An In-the-Trenches Perspective of Writing Movies in Today's Film Industry -- now available!

1 comment:

Susan said...

Hi Jim,

These are useful pragmatics to know because, particularly not being in the US, one has to really undertake appropriate research to know the cultural mores because first impressions DO count. I recall flipping open a thesis once and looking down the table of contents and observing several formatting errors. I immediately thought, "This person used a pay-for-degree institution" and, I was right. I then thought less of the letters after their name. (That impression was later proved to be correct by the way).

It would be easy to make a mistake. Every script I have seen in my part of the world has had their WG # on the title page unless it is being submitted for a competition.