BIZ TIP TUESDAY:
YOUR RESUME PLEASE
In those dark ages before the existence of IMDB there was no real way to check someone’s credits. The only real way to know if a producer was real or not was to have seen their name on one of their movies. There was Hollywood Creative Directory, which was published four times a year (people in this business move around a lot and companies fold and are sometimes reborn under another name) and cost $50, so it was common to buy a copy and use it for a couple of years or so... until most of the listings were no longer correct. But even a new edition didn’t list every company...
I was probably on the third year of my HCD when I got a call from a Producer I had never heard of who was looking for action scripts and was told that I was the man to see. Could I send him a list of whatever I had available and a resume? Well, sure... A reasonable request, and since my resume includes everything from my first produced feature in 1984 to my three HBO World Premieres, I was more than happy to include it. These days, if you have ever responded to an InkTip listing, there’s a whole section for your biography and credits. Producers like to know what you’ve done. But since I had never heard of this Producer, I asked him if he could do the same. Tell me a few of the films he’d made so I’d have a better idea of what sort of scripts he might be interested in (and so that I might go down to my local video store, rent his films, and see what I was getting myself into). I was sure that he'd be renting *my* videos.
The Producer became defensive. "I don't have to tell you what films I've made..."
Red Flag #1.
Hey, I was gonna show him mine, the least he could do is show me his. Most producers *brag* about the films they have made. It’s so close to impossible to get anything from script to screen in this town, even the worst film on the Blockbuster shelves (at the time) was a major accomplishment. If you go into any production company office, the walls are covered with posters for the films they’ve made. On a project I was working on with an indie producer, we did a tour of companies who were interested in funding the project, and one place was wall-to-wall posters for major flop movies. All big budgets with major stars - and none made their money back. But they were proud of having made them, because it’s almost impossible to get *anything* made in this town. So they bragged about the flops.
So I asked this producer looking for action scripts how he'd found me, and he mentioned the name of another producer that I'd written several scripts for and had a good working relationship with. So I decided this guy was okay, even if he was being evasive. I sent him my list, he picked a script, read it and loved it, but there was a little problem... He had an independent financier willing to put up the money for a film, but until the financier put up the money, he had no operating capital. Would I give him a four month one dollar option? He'd probably have the money to buy the script in two weeks.
Red Flag #2.
I'm against free options and $1 options. If a producer has no money invested in your script, your script is worthless to them. I actually know a "producer" who options every script he can find for a dollar... puts a copy in a storage unit and if anyone is ever looking for a Western, he’s got a dozen under option. He doesn't care which one they choose. The other 999 scripts just sit in storage. He has only read the synopsis, not the whole screenplay. But even though I'm against free options, this producer was a friend of a producer I've done a lot of work for, so I said okay.
Two weeks later - no money. Four months later - no money. But the producer called. His investor wanted the three lead roles cast before he wrote his check. He actually had the two male leads signed, and just needed to sign the female lead. Could I extend the option another four months? By now I had another producer interested in reading the script. But the first guy had everything except a female lead - he was closer then the second producer (who hadn't even read the script).
Four months later, he still hadn't signed a female lead... and it seems that the two male leads weren't exactly signed, but he *had* talked to them about the project. So I finally did what I should have done eight months earlier... I called my producer friend who this guy had name-dropped.
Who said he'd never heard of him.
Later I found out my eight-months-for-a-buck producer had met my producer friend at a party and he'd recommended me as a writer. Of course my producer friend would recommend me - he’d bought and made a couple of scripts of mine, and those posters were hanging in *his* office. Seems this guy was making his first movie and *thought* he knew what he was doing, but really had no idea. I should have known when he became defensive about past credits. Everyone else brags.
YOU CAN ASK
Writers are often afraid to ask for credits or other information. They don’t want to look rude or maybe screw up a potential deal. But deals work both ways - they are making a deal with you and you are making a deal with them. So it’s fair to ask. Don’t be combative or angry, just be friendly - “Hey, I’m sorry, but I’m not familiar with your work. What are some of your films?” And 99% of the time they tell you, and 1% of the time you run away.
You want to ask politely - not in a “Prove it to me!” tone - and maybe say you want to look at some of their films on Netflix to get a better idea of what kind of stories interest them. Make it seem like you want to know more about them so that you can find the script that is the best fit for them. You are helping them. And you *are* - if you watch a couple of their films and realize that the script of yours that they have read won’t work as well for them as something else you have, you will save them a lot of time. I’ve had producers who seemed to prefer contained thrillers read a chase thriller of mine and like it, but not know that I have something that’s right down their alley. Hey, they might have attempted to change my chase thriller into something more contained in rewrites - and that may not have worked. But I have this thing that is already what they want! The same has happened with “tone” issues - if I’ve seen a bunch of their films and they are gritty and realistic, I will know what they want in their rewrite of my script. If I’ve seen some of their films, I will better know what they want, so asking for their credits is a good thing for them.
But we have come out of those dark ages, and you can just look them up on IMDB.
In fact, you should be looking people and companies up on IMDB *before* you contact them. It will save you all sorts of trouble. I often read on message boards and in FB groups posts from new writers who are looking for someone, anyone, to read their scripts... and that’s what leads to making these big mistakes. What you want to do is *research* producers and managers and agents and find the ones that *fit* you and your work. Not just anyone, but a specific production company or manager. It’s much easier to do the research ahead of time than to get stuck with an eight month option to some loser wanna-be producer ands *then* do the research. Learn from my mistake!
There is all kinds of information out there, at your fingertips - so do the research! I have a tip in rotation on “Blockbuster Research” (which really need a rewrite, since Blockbuster is no more) on finding the producers who match your screenplay. You can still do that research now online. And you can look up anyone else first, too.
But what if you look up a producer on IMDB and they don’t have any credits?
TWO KINDS OF NO CREDITS
Having no credits on IMDB isn’t always a red flag. There are really two kinds of first time producers (maybe more). You know how back in the dark ages before IMDB the updated Hollywood Creative Directory every 3 months because so many companies either went out of business or reorganized and changed their names or moved? Well, when that happens now, the new company may not have any credits on IMDB... but the people *behind* the company may have credits. So don’t just stop at looking up a company name, look up the people at the company as well. Though I have no idea what’s going to happen to The Weinstein Company now that Harvey is persona au gratin, but all of the people who work there or previously worked there may open up their own companies or join together and form new companies - and those may look like new producers, but they have a ton of experience.
Ages ago, I met with a producer named Elaine who hadn’t produced a movie on her own at that time, but she’d worked in production on a bunch of films. She was a production manager - those people who do the actual physical production on movies - and had amassed all kinds of connections with crew and stars and directors and distributors and financiers and everyone else you’d need to make a movie. What she needed was a screenplay. She read one of mine - a twisted mystery - and loved it, and wanted one of those $1 options. She gave me a list of films she had worked on (but not produced) and I checked them out. She had *tons* of experience. Because I was a moron (and two other producers were interested in the same script) I decided not to option my script to her, even though I believed in her. One of the other producers interested in the same script was offering a real money option, and I went with him. He never got the project off the ground. She found another script and producer that instead... a little number called MEMENTO. Oops!
So producers like Elaine are the kind of first timers you want to work with. She had a ton of credits, just hadn’t produced her first film yet. You may have to dig deep into IMDB to find the folks who are the “good” first timers, but it’s worth it. Lots of people work in this business and eventually end up with enough connections to make a movie... and it could be your script!
Then there are the other first timers. These days, anyone with a camera can be a producer on a no budget feature, and you see lots of them looking for screenplays on places like InkTip. The problem is that no budget features are the new spec scripts - and there are thousands and thousands made every year but only a few find some sort of meaningful distribution. So instead of having a screenplay that nobody wants to read you end up with a movie that nobody wants to see - and it does nothing to help your career. Now, you may want the *experience* of having one of your screenplays made, and that’s fine. There are things that you can learn from the process and it’s always cool to see what you have written on screen. But that doesn’t necessarily mean anything else will happen career-wise. So, if someone is a first time producer and all you expect to get out of it is a film made, that’s cool. But if you expect more than that?
Be careful of "$20 producers" - guys and gals who spend $20 for business cards that say they're producers, but have never actually produced anything. Anyone can get business cards printed! What have they produced? With IMDB you can easily look up anyone's credits - that's usually the first thing I do with any producer I'm not familiar with. Now, sometimes these folks are like Elaine and have a bunch of non-producer credits and that’s okay. But sometimes they’ve done nothing. And looks can be deceiving...
I got a call from another production company that I’d never heard of with offices on Sunset Boulevard who were looking for writers on a project they were going to make. I had a meeting with them, and sensed that something was off. They office was fine - a rental in a building filled with other small production companies. There were posters on the walls from huge Hollywood hits. They were two guys in suits... but they just seemed a little bit off. They mentioned some young movie star names as people they knew, but not that they had worked with. As the meeting went on, it became apparent that they didn’t IMDB *me* - and however they got my phone number and read my script (my scripts sometimes get passed around town) they had no idea who I was. They thought I was some new writer who would spec their film idea for free. So I pulled a DVD out of my bag and popped it into the player under the big flat screen on their wall and showed them the opening credits to CRASH DIVE with all kinds of submarine footage from the Navy Film office and my name as writer and they both said “You wrote this?” at the same time. It seems this was the extreme case of “$20 Producers” - these guys knew a bunch of young actors from night clubs they frequented, rented an office for a couple of months to put together some sort of movie deal using those stars they’d danced with (and probably snorted coke with) but had no idea how movies were actually made. Again - I should have IMDBed them, so learn from my mistakes!
Mistake #4... I make many mistakes.
It’s not impolite to ask!
As strange as this sounds, a new writer usually *doesn’t* want to work with a new producer. Part of what new writers are looking for is an educational experience on how production works and if you are new and they are new? That's too many people who don't really know what they're doing! A new writer wants to work with a producers who has gone through the process at least once before... so that we can learn from them. A new producer needs to surround themselves with as many "old hands" as possible so that they can benefit from their knowledge. The rule is - one "new guy" on a film is the limit! More than that and you have potential problems!
Remember: Producers PRODUCE. If someone hasn't produced anything, they're like a writer who hasn't written a script, yet. If you *have* written a script (or ten) then you are way ahead of these folks! Find someone as far along as you are!
There's also nothing wrong with you, as a screenwriter, asking for the credits or resumes of Agents, Managers, Screenwriting Instructors, Script Consultants, or anything else that may cost you time or money. Why not? What does anyone have to hide? Whenever you're expending time or money on something, it's only fair that you know what you're paying for in advance. That way you can decide if it's worth it.>/p>
Again, easiest way is to just do your research - look them up and find out what they have done before. If they have any experience. There’s a whole business of “Script Consultants” out there, and some were development executives at legit production companies or readers for production companies who are completely legit. They may not be on IMDB, but they worked in the actual job that will be reading and making a decision for a producer whether to buy your script (or have a meeting with you). They are the experts on the other side of the desk. Then there are people who just want to make some money off desperate screenwriters and have never worked in the business. Just ask for their background. Look, there are probably people with no actual business experience who give great notes... but I always worry that they may be focusing on what isn’t important and ignoring what is important in a screenplay.
There is no learning tool more valuable than experience, but you'd be surprised how many screenwriting teachers or writers of screenwriting books have never had a sale or never done an assignment or never had anything produced (when things suddenly get real and the writing stops being “theory”). One of the problems with some teachers and writers is that they are full of opinions on what movies *should be* instead of what they are, and their lessons are not aimed at teaching you about reality. Hollywood is not about making great art, it’s about making money. Hey, nice if there’s some art involved, but that’s not the focus. So some book or class that’s all about the art isn’t going to help you. Theory isn’t the same as practical information. This year, some of the best films have been mainstream commercial genre flicks like GET OUT and LOGAN - where the art was the “bonus”. If you just wanted to see a creepy horror-thriller or a superhero movie, those films worked. I’ve read some “theoretical” books by people who haven’t been produced that completely object to all things commercial. That’s great if you never want to sell a script, since selling a script is a commercial transaction. Most of use would rather take a class from someone with the experience of finding ways to include the “art” in a screenplay that will also sell and get made. So experience counts! Even for teachers and folks who write instructional books. What they heck have they done?
So do your research! Find out who the *best* manager or agent for you screenplay is before you send it out. Make sure the producers you deal with have actually produced something. Look for the experience behind any teacher or consultant or any other service. We are no longer in those dark ages before IMDB, so *use* the tools out there to find out who people are and what they have done before so that you don’t waste your time and money on people (who might not be crooks, just beginners who don’t know any better) who can’t help you. If someone asks for your resume, don’t be afraid to ask for theirs. Just be nice about it!
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E BOOKS PAGE
E BOOKS: New Blue Books and Novelettes!
I am expanding all of the Blue Books from around 44 pages of
text to around 200 pages! Some are over 250 pages! See what is availabale and what is coming soon!Also, I've been writing Novelletes and there
will soon be novels.
E BOOKS: BLUE BOOKS & NOVELLETES
MY OTHER SITES
B MOVIE WORLD
Cult Films, Exploitation, Bikers & Women In Prison, Monster Movies.
FIRST STRIKE PRODUCTIONS
Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.
NAKED SCREENWRITING CDs
The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON CD!
The 2001 London Class on 8 CDs! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival
wrapped. The two day class on 8CDs, plus a workbook, plus a bonus CD with PDFs.
The 2 Day Class on CD!
Every screenwriting book in the world!
In Association With Amazon.com
From the latest screenwriting book to
guides for finding agents and producers... all with at the
BOOKLETS & PRODUCTS
FIRST STRIKE BLUE BOOKS
Each Blue Book is 48
pages and focuses on a different aspect of screenwriting. Dialogue. Visual Storytelling. Your First Ten Pages. Act 2 Booster. Protagonists. Great Endings.
Seventeen Blue Books now available!
THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The
nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines,
several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
CLASSES ON CD
CLASSES ON CD! Take a class on CD! GUERRILLA MARKETING - NO AGENT? NO PROBLEM! and WRITING THRILLERS (2 CDs). Full length classes on CD. Now Available: IDEAS & CREATIVITY, WRITING HORROR, WRITING INDIE FILMS, more!
Take classes on CD!