Former actress and theater director Christina Hamlett is the published author of 16 books, 98 plays and musicals, and over 200 magazine and newspaper articles on the performing arts, humor, travel, and publishing. She is also screenwriter for an independent film company and is currently teaching an online script-writing class through WRITER ON LINE. Her latest book, a humorous essay collection called "HOW TO TELL IF YOUR CO-WORKERS ARE FROM MARS & Other Tales of the Workplace," is available at www.zeus-publications.com
Inklings: Writing Well & Profitably for Books, Film, and Stage
This month: SELLING SCRIPTS IN CYBERSPACE. How can the new screenwriter tap into the Internet as a resource...or should they?The Internet is dramatically changing the way that producers-and, accordingly, agents-are doing business. From independent production companies to major studios, the electronic bandwagon is being hopped on from all directions. How can you as a new screenwriter tap into this valuable resource...and should you?
THEN AND NOW Jerrol LeBaron, creator/owner of Writers Script Network, has become an expert on how to get exposure for writers of screenplays and shorts. Growing up in a construction background, but with entrepreneurial spirit, Jerrol purchased his first business at age 23. Later on, he dabbled in acting and writing and it was this experience that inspired him to create Writers Script Network. His opinions on how technology is making Hollywood more accessible to beginners are included herein with his gracious permission.
"Can the Internet be an effective tool for screenwriters? Five years ago, the answer would have been an emphatic 'no'. To many of the "old school" industry professionals, the answer is still 'no'. The good news, though, is that Hollywood is being firmly nudged to embrace what has become an inescapable facet of modern technology: cyber promotion.
Up until the Internet, screenwriters had a particularly tough time of getting recognized. Between the Writers Guild and Copyright Office, there are approximately 90,000 works for stage, television and film that are registered annually in the US. Although a good percentage of these are screenplays, only a few hundred will ever make it to the silver screen each year. Why? Because Tinseltown is a tightly closed community, operating on the popular catch-phrase, 'You're only as good as your last film.' As a result, many well known artists share the same frustration as their lesser-known rivals in finding just the right project. Directors and producers as well share the labor-intensive plight of having to read hundreds of treatments and scripts in the quest for discovering one that will be a good vehicle for their careers.
Further complicating the access issue from the writer's standpoint has been the prohibitive nature of getting a new screenplay, sans agent, into a particular talent's hands. Short of moving to LA and parking on someone's doorstep, aspiring screenwriters have endured the dismal reality of spending months-even years- on a project, only to have it rejected or, worse, never read at all.
With digital equipment and the Internet, however, the odds in favor of linking authors, actors, and film companies have increased dramatically. For one thing, the entertainment industry is gearing itself to start showing full-length features on the Internet 24 hours a day. There are now scores of companies, such as Ifilm.com where you can view 30-second to 15-minute shorts. Such groups are aggressively soliciting produced material that can go on line immediately, not only providing writers with credits but invaluable experience and sometimes even money! As an entry-level opportunity, the demand currently exceeds the supply.
Another positive development is the proliferation of marketing opportunities via personal computers. More and more producers and studios from world-wide are now utilizing cyber-space for their future film projects. As the months go by, we will see a growing trend of directors and producers who have the wherewithal to produce micro-budget films and garner 3-10 picture deals looking to this resource for original material. As an example, I recently had a working but unknown actor named Richard Cody visit my website (http://www.WritersScriptNetwork.com) in search of a character-driven script that could be produced for roughly $100,000. Shortly after providing him access to the site and sending out notices to writers I know, a creative executive for Disney made contact with him. The next thing I knew, Richard had an interview. Through our cooperative efforts, previously inaccessible doors were suddenly opening up to him. He now has a budget of $1-3 million and has found three suitable projects to pursue.
Taking advantage of this burgeoning Internet marketplace requires a fair share of research and groundwork. Because it's still a relatively new field in terms of pitching scripts, all of the 'rules' are still in the embryonic stage. The plus for writers in this, of course, is that the long-standing Catch-22 regarding credits and representation can't really be applied. The sky, as they say, is the limit.
Whether your objective is to write shorts or features, it's important to know their respective idiosyncrasies and formats. In either case, the lower the budget, the higher your chances of seeing it sold and produced. This means fewer characters, minimal special effects, and concentrating all of the events in the fewest number of locations (i.e., one house, a park, a cemetery, etc.) Playwrights might find it especially easy to adapt some of their material for this new venue, given the already existent economy of production.
Planning to post your synopsis or script on a web site for review? There are several which specialize in making scripts available to industry professionals, such as www.storybay.com, www.scripteaser.com, and www.thesource.com.au, which originates in Australia. Many of these organizations will require a release form and/or WGA registration. A few warnings: (1) Don't sign release forms that use the word 'identical'; (2) Don't post your entire script if the site isn't password protected and doesn't track records of who is viewing your work; and (3) Always protect your work, whether it's a 2-minute short or a 2-hour feature. Protecting your work is relatively easy, inexpensive and can even be done quickly online.
This is the way the market is going. Take advantage of it!
John Johnson, Executive Director and Founder of the American Screenwriters Association, voices a similar view that the old way of doing business is undergoing a substantive facelift:
"The marketing of script ideas through the Internet is in its infancy, much like the concept five years ago of being able to purchase airline tickets online. But as technology advances and people become more comfortable with using the Internet to market scripts, the frequency and constructive use of such sites will increase dramatically. Right now this type of marketing is not as effective because the web sites offering these services are so new, plus screenwriters have to learn about them and get past the problems of confidentiality and insecurity of someone 'stealing their script.' "
"I do envision that one day marketing one's script through the Internet will become as substantial as (but will never completely replace the personal aspect of) personal pitching. In its truest form, placing your script on a web site is a pitch. The real question is, will producers, agents and industry professionals adopt this technological marketing of scripts as the norm? Personally, I think they'd be crazy not to."
"Imagine you are an agent. No longer is your mailbox, voice mail and email clogged with script submissions. Now, you can log onto a secure web site at your convenience and view the scripts you are interested in by quickly reviewing the log lines and/or synopsis. Realistically, Hollywood is and always will be a 'personal' business. Decisions are made because of who you know, who you are (especially in terms of an agent or studio liking you as well as your work), how good your work is and good ol' fashioned networking to get your script into the right hands at the right time. " A WEALTH OF SCREENWRITING WEBSITES
Break out those electronic bookmarks! You truly don't need to live in Hollywood or New York to take advantage of all the script placement services, directories, professional associations, or online classes that are available from the convenience of your own computer.
ASA was founded ASA in 1996 in Cincinnati in response to the void which Executive Director John Johnson perceived between emerging screenwriters and the industry. A short four years later, ASA now boasts 650+ members in 8 countries, conducts 2 international competitions, is implementing an exciting pilot project with Time Warner Cable, and recently acquired responsibility for the longest running screenwriting conference in America, SELLING TO HOLLYWOOD. Taking control of this premier screenwriting conference will continue to elevate ASA's visibility, not just through the marketing of the conference in trade publications, web sites and direct mailings, but also in the delivery of successful programs taught by some of Hollywood's top experts.
Writers Script Network
Writers Script Network is a password-protected site that allows writers to post their loglines, synopses, and full scripts for agent, director, and producer review. A feature has also been added which allows writers to post loglines for shorts.
This site is the brainchild of Francis Ford Coppola and offers both beginning and professional screenwriters the chance to post their scripts free of charge for evaluation and feedback by other participants. Access to the site is password-protected, and members must read and review a designated number of new scripts before receiving the results of their own submissions. Those that receive significantly high marks are then forwarded to Coppola staff for production consideration.
Who's Buying What? For $30 a year, you'll have the answer at the flick of a keystroke, plus be privy to first-time success stories. Yours could become one of them!
HollywoodLitSales not only opens the door to new material, but regularly updates its data base of American and foreign producers seeking projects than can be shot for less than $10 million. It also has one of the most comprehensive resource links I've found to agents, production companies, film festivals, and monthly/annual script competitions. Online seminars and topical articles by entertainment professionals help to keep new writers abreast of what Hollywood is looking for and how best to deliver it.
Scripteaser is a clearinghouse site for studio execs, agents, and producers to go shopping by genre for new projects. For a fee of $47 per screenplay for the first year and $26 annual renewal, screenwriters post their synopses for review; prospective buyers then contact the Scripteaser staff for a copy of the actual script. (Given the cost of xeroxing manuscripts and staying well stocked in covers, brads, and postage, the registration fee is well worth the advantage of having someone else do the packaging and mail-out!) Articles, industry interviews, and contest/festival information are also part of the site, as well as front page profiles of selected members.
This "Pipeline Into Motion Pictures" is an Internet matchmaking service between new scripts and producers. In addition to providing full-coverage critiques of your submitted material, the staff at Script P.I.M.P. is committed to walking it through the Hollywood process and into the hands of industry execs looking for specific types of films. Prior registration with the U.S. Copyright Office or Writers Guild of America is required, along with a standard release form (available at the site). If you can spring for the $100 screenplay fee, what you'll receive in return is an objective analysis of what works and what doesn't in terms of marketability. What you won't receive, of course, is any guarantee of a sale once the script is put in circulation. A better way to go, particularly if you have done well in contests or had previous critiques done and/or simply like your film exactly the way it is, is to pay a $40 fee to get your script into the system. Scripts can be submitted electronically or by snail mail.
Frederick Levy, Vice President of Development and Production at Marty Katz Productions, is the creative force behind this informative and entertaining site regarding what it takes to write for today's movies. It's also a solid inducement to purchase Levy's best-selling text, "Hollywood 101: The Film Industry" or sign up for his ongoing film classes at UCLA Extension.
This site has a tremendous number of industry links to commend it, but my favorite feature is the one that lists all of the major production companies and the actors/actresses who run their own.
Excerpted from Christina's latest book, "IT ALL BEGINS WITH THE SCRIPT: Writing and Selling Your Screenplay," available from Zeus Publications, Australia (www.zeus-publications.com)