Heywell Film Scripts Blog

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Archive for June, 2007

Screenwriting Slippery Slopes

Posted by bobheske on June 4, 2007

Well, it’s been awhile.

Several months in fact. But hey, what’s a few months in virtual time?

I’ve been busy with several (free) rewrites, co-writing a new short (Bern in Hell) with my wife, and writing a new comedy. Some positive things are happening, but for now I’ll focus this entry on a recent example of screenwriter scam.

In a nutshell … a few months ago I received an email from a gentleman (we’ll call him “Mr. Hassan”) congratulating me with the great news that he had read my script off triggerstreet.com. He had another writer whom he was raising funds for, but he wanted to option my horror script for a 3-month “free look” period while he gathered funds and found me an agent. His company (we’ll call it “The Wizard of … Motion Picture Group”) was hard to find on the Internet. And talking to this secretive dude was even harder. He didn’t want to divulge details or talk on the phone. But promised he’d respond to my queries via email. He promised me $20K to $200K, depending on funding secured … guaranteed.

He even gave me a name of another “winner” I could email … but told me (“hush-hush”) not to tell her that he was planning a fundraising concert in her honor.

I emailed this writer to try to find out details. She was very close to the vest – not telling me anything. Meanwhile, another producer whom I knew a little bettter loved the rewrite of this same script and wanted to do a co-creation agreement to turn it into a comic book. No pay up front, but we’d split all profits 50-50, plus it would be a great way to market the feature to the studios (ever notice how many films get made out of graphic novels these days?).

In short, I took Door #2 and went the comic book route. I had my manager contact “Mr. Hassan” and he actually sent a gracious email wishing us luck, and saying he didn’t have funds available now but was working on it. In my experience, most screenplay sales leads end up in quicksand … so I soon forgot about it.

Then today, I received an email from Mr. Hassan’s other writer / “winner” who offered this eye-opening update:

Wizard of… Motion Picture Group was a scam … He was vague, sketchy–the kind of guy who answers with a question or sends a lot of nothing paperwork to pretend he is holding fund-raising events he is not. I never received a penny on the 21k award he represented. He now says he has no money and never did … Not a single penny, just story after story after story for five or six months. No agents either–just more stories.

The writer turned out to be a nice person (at least, from the emails we exchanged). Now, tired of the crap chasing down Tinseltown, she’s decided to write a book instead of a movie and is pursuing self-publishing. God speed and much success to her! (Tip: Lulu and iuniverse were two sites she recommended.)

So SCREENWRITERS BEWARE of the “free option” and the dangling carrot of “guaranteed moola.” If nothing else, have your manager or pay an entertainment lawyer to contact these charlatans before you get caught with your pants down.

Here’s a few other things to steer clear from:

  • Paying Script Consultants Who “Love Your Contest Script BUT …” – My professor at Emerson College warned me but I didn’t listen. After entering my script Love Stupid in the San Diego Film Festival Contest I got a nice email from a consultant who told me my script was one of a handful that she read that had promise and she could right the script with a screenplay consultation for $250 – satisfaction guaranteed or my money back! My professor told me that it was just a scheme and, judging from the email I shared with him, it was odd that she liked my script very much but didn’t say one single thing identifying she’d read it or remembered it (e.g., the email she sent was a form note). I didn’t listen … and boy, was I wrong. During the call, the writer got thru Act One and said, “And well … the rest of the story needs to be rewritten from here.” It was clear she’d only gotten partway through my script and the rest of the critique was generalities you’d find in any screenwriting tome. So lesson learned – submit to contests but don’t pay for script consults as a post mortem – whether you win or lose!

  • Writing Treatments for Free – OK, in chapter two of “I’m an idiot” make sure you never, ever do this: find a producer who likes your script but has another idea they want to explore instead. They want you to either: a) write their short story idea or b) write a treatment or script for a little idea dancing around in their head. I’ve done both faux paus – for a short and a feature treatment – and nothing has come out of it. Why waste your time writing a script on spec for some dreamer who talks a great story but never follows through? Not only have I lost time writing the damn stuff, I lost money doing agreements with my entertainment lawyer that were never, ever responded to. Trust me. Your time is more important. Write your own story. And if someone wants you to write their script – do what I do now: point them to the rates on your website. They’ll disappear faster than free pizza at the office.

  • Don’t Pay A Manager (Unless You Can Afford It) – I’ve been told this one by many people but it took firsthand experience – and several thousand dollars out of my personal savings – to learn the lesson myself. It’s always a compliment when someone “in the biz” likes your work and wants to represent you. I had an experience with a person whom, personally, I liked very much and who I am sure worked very hard and was fair in billing me. However, over the course of two years I spent enough money to make my own short and never even got a whiff of a live pitch. Sure, I had several nice notes from prodcos and studios who liked my work and wanted to see more – but this was the only work the manager represented. If I wrote another script, it would take several rewrites to “get it right” and, thus, represented. Hence, in retrospect, for me this was a bad move. If you have the money to blow – go for it and follow your dream. But if you are raising a family on a limited income like me … well, be glad you have a forgiving wife. If you are going to pay someone to represent your services, make sure it is an entertainment lawyer who reviews any option/purchase agreement before you give away the rights to your script (see the scam that I started this blog off with for details). Every conference and film festival that I got to, I hear the same piece of advice: An agent or manager should only be paid after they option/sell your work – not for reading it or sending it out.

  • One other pet peeve – inevitably people will ask you to read their scripts and provide feedback. If you have the time, by all means do. However, too frequently people send me a draft mired with tons of typos and/or which they are in the midst of rewriting. In other words, they haven’t taken the time to finish the rewrite or complete a clean draft, yet they want me to take the time to read the unfinished work. Save yourself time – tell them you will read the revised script AFTER they have finished a draft that they’re ready to send out. Or, if they just want a “quick read,” have them email the synopsis or treatment. EXCEPTION TO THIS RULE: If you have a working relationship – ergo, they read your stuff, you read theirs, and/or you collaborate with them – then disregard this pet peeve. Do whatever you can to help these friends out – and be brutally honest in your review.)

    Finally – remember the “power of NO”. As a writer, we can’t force people to make our scripts. But, as long as we’ve been smart enough to copyright protect them, we can always say NO to a lowball offer. I’ve done it a handful of times myself and have never regretted it. You work hard dammit. If someone won’t pay you for what you do – you don’t need to work with them (nor do they deserve your script).

    Well, I hope I haven’t pissed anybody off. But writing this blog is therapeutic for me and, most important, intended to help aspiring screenwriters to avoid my mistakes and hopefully find a quicker path to success than the one I have stumbled upon this past decade+.

    Till next time – wear slippers in the rain and avoid those screenwriting slippery slopes.


    Bob Heske


    Posted in Independent Films, Screenwriting | 2 Comments »