Have you heard about the wealthy Nigerian businessman who wants to produce an American movie? He just needs your best script—the one you really believe in most…and your social security and bank account numbers so he can make a direct deposit into your bank account.
If there is the slightest hint that your heart got excited for one beat upon reading about that fictitious (I think) Nigerian businessman, then you need to memorize and say out loud three times the following words:
“If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
(For those outside the United States the proper translations of that well used phrase is, “If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is not true.)
It was true of Bernie Madoff and it’s true of a zillion screenwriting and filmmaking opportunities.
In fact, if there is one thing that there is more of than screenplays out in the world it is schemes and scams to profit from your screenwriting dreams. So be careful. The waters are tricky out there, and if there is one place it will profit you to be skeptical and cynical— it’s in this area.
True Story. When I was 18 years old I went to one of those modeling agencies that is in every large and mid-sized town in America (probably in the world). I was looking for a photographer’s assistant job. The owner of the agency looked and my resume and portfolio then looked at me and said, “Have you ever thought about modeling? I think you’d be good in front of the camera.” Who doesn’t want to be told that?
And though that was a long time ago I remember that moment in Orlando, Florida clearly.
Finally somebody had recognized the obvious and I was soon going to fly off to New York and Paris and live an exciting life that few were able to experience. All I had to do was pay them for a photo shoot and I would be in their book and up for assignments. Oldest trick in the book. My total number of modeling gigs—zero. They made most of their money taking pictures of potential models.
It may not have been the first time I had ever been played in my life, but it’s the first time I remember it costing me money. (And it wouldn’t be the last time, either.)
Side note: If someone thinks you have potential as model and they are a legitimate agency, they will sign you and make their money booking you on gigs, not make their money from you paying them. And if they want you to pay them to take pictures—run. If you’re starting out you will need photos, but even there you can find up-and-coming and even established photographers who will do free testing with you as a way to build their portfolio. It’s a win-win deal.
The real test if someone loves your script—they give you money. It may not be a lot, but they are putting their money where their mouth is. It might be a $1,000./one-year option. And just as important as it is to write good subtext in your script, it’s good for you to read subtext when you read or hear a producer/production company state, “We’re looking for fresh, new writers.” What they probably mean, “We don’t have any money.”
Creative people are susceptible to scams because we live in a world of dreams and illusions. (Track down the stories of musicians John Mellencamp and Billy Joel and the bad deals they signed early in their careers.) So be careful and know the wolf is always at the door and wearing a million disguises. In fact, the line between scams and legitimate is sometimes very thin. Some would say that the rise of film schools out there is a scam.
Surely there is a difference between the top film schools in the nation and the latest two-year, unaccredited film program costing $50,000—but every year there are tens of thousands of film school graduates (including those with MFA’s from the top schools) who will never work in any real capacity in the field they have studied. (Granted that’s true for many majors, but film and theater majors may be two of the least majors out there. At least there isn’t a degree for people wanting to be a rock star. At least, I don’t think there is.)
And I don’t have time, energy or knowledge to point out every scam and scheme out there. Just tread lightly. Ask a lot of questions. Do a lot of searches.
There are many groups out there that say that they will help you market your script. They range from script consultants to groups that will act as a go between between you and producers and agencies. Some boost of success stories. Some of those stories are probably true, most are not.
And don’t worry, you’re going to make mistakes. It’s going to cost you money. That’s part of life. And trust me,I’ve even met some very smart businessmen who made some very costly mistakes in the film business by trusting the wrong people. One of the great things about the internet is you can do a lot of fact checking in just a few minutes.
And there are some gray areas out there in the agency world. WGA signatory agents aren’t supposed to charge money to read scripts, but what some do is set up separate companies to do so (or do it on the side). Others call them reading fees and others refer of them as educational opportunities for new writers. There are lots of interesting stories out there—maybe you have one to share.
It’s a crazy business. I remember when I studied acting back in the day in L.A. more than one naive girl I knew had “auditions” at a producer’s home. Screenwriting has it’s own built-in traps and quagmires. As a general rule, it’s wise to strive to make every purchase an investment.
We’ll look at some alternative ways to market your script tomorrow, but I thought I’d first give you a warning.