Reader question via Twitter:
@GoIntoTheStory What’s the most creative way, you’ve seen/heard, when someone was trying to get their screenplay read?
— SCIFI2611 (@scifi2611) May 3, 2015
By “get their screenplay read,” I assume, @scifi2611, you mean “by someone who can cut me a million dollar check to buy said script”, or at least an individual in the Hollywood food chain who can lead to that fat payday.
Since I’ve been at this for nearly three decades, I have seen, read, or heard more than a few innovative approaches to getting material read. BPDF (Before PDFs), when aspiring writers had to figure out how to get a screenplay comprised of three-hole paper and accompanying brads into the actual hands of a reader, the task was particularly challenging in that you had to create a physical intersection in the time-space continuum between your script and a real live human being.
Speaking personally, even I have been hit up to read material in some unusual ways. Once I was taking a cab to LAX and when the chatty driver discovered I was a screenwriter, he tossed a screenplay he’d written into the back seat. [One must assume he kept it at hand precisely for opportunities like this one.] What followed was a combo pitch session and slalom ride through 405 traffic with his head bobbing back and forth between me and the cars around him, relating what he thought were cool moments in his story interspersed between invectives spewed at other drivers. Valuable lesson learned: Never tell cab drivers you are a screenwriter or this may happen.
Back in the early 90s, I remember a guy who used to stand on busy intersections in Los Angeles (I saw him once at Santa Monica and Wilshire near the old CAA building) holding a sign that said, “Screenplays For Sale,” and he would literally wave his scripts at passing cars. Not sure if he got a sale, but he got noticed by the press which in L.A. is no small deal.
I heard a story from an agent in which he was at a club one night, went into the men’s room, entered a stall, closed the door, and was doing his business when he saw a screenplay being slid under the divider wall, accompanied by an O.S. voice of the script’s writer pitching the story. Needless to say, the Bathroom Pitcher did not become that agent’s client.
Writers have taken out ads in the trades. Thumbs up for chutzpah. Thumbs down for economic sensibility.
Not script related per se, there was another LAT article some time ago about a fledgling actress who, frustrated she couldn’t land an agent, created an alter ego to act as her rep, like if Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) in Tootsie had concocted the character of agent George Fields (Sydney Pollock). She started calling productions as the faux talent agent on behalf of the “hot new talent” she repped. Not sure how much work the actress got, but again the press she generated probably didn’t hurt.
Sports has been a traditional means to an aspiring screenwriter’s end. If you’re good at hockey, soccer, tennis, surfing, basketball, and the like, there are circuits in Hollywood of agents, managers, producers, execs, actors, and directors who indulge in those activities. I know several writers who due to their athletic prowess have maneuvered their way into an inner circle of connections. But this takes time to develop solid relationships before kerplopping your spec script onto the sweaty, post-game lap of one of your teammates who just happens to be a player.
The thing is these type of antics may have been necessary 20 years ago when the Hollywood acquisition and development system was pretty much a closed loop, where a writer had to know an agent, exec, or producer, or someone who knew someone to get read. That is not the case nowadays.
With the emergence of managers, there is a lot more opportunity for writers to send out unsolicited material and get read. Strategy: Find managers who have produced movies similar to your script. Get their email addresses (many of them are listed in sites like DoneDealPro.com). Send them a brief email with the logline of your script. It worked for Seth Lochhead who got a manager, then sold his script which eventually became the movie Hana.
Then there is the Black List website. Any screenwriter in the world can pay a small monthly fee to have their screenplay hosted on the site. It becomes available to over 3,000 industry people who subscribe to the service. I just spent the weekend up in NYC with Franklin Leonard, who founded and runs the Black List, and he tells me well over 100 writers have gotten representation off the website and there have been dozens of deals as well. Indeed, the first movie to be produced that was discovered off the Black List website — Nightengale — debuts on HBO May 29th.
Note: I do not make any money from my affiliation with the Black List. My recommendation is based on my belief in and support of what Franklin and the Black List team are accomplishing in opening new avenues into Hollywood.
Hollywood’s old closed loop system is slowly opening up. So if you’re speculating how you can use drones to deliver your latest spec to Leo or Scarlett, there are better ways to get read nowadays.
That said, I’d be interested to hear of other innovative, even outrageous attempts people may have heard of or tried to get scripts read by industry people who matter. If you’ve got some tales to tell, please head to comments.
UPDATE: And right on cue, this happens (via The Wrap):
Suzanne Allain has landed a two-step blind deal at Warner Bros. after submitting her script “Mr. Malcolm’s List” to the Black List.
Warners and Franklin Leonard‘s Black List recently partnered “in order to further encourage diversity among our screenwriting ranks.”
Based out of Tallahassee, Florida, Allain self-submitted the script to the popular screenwriting site and it garnered attention around town before eventually working its way up the ladder at WB.
Like I said in my original post, you don’t need fancy tricks to get a script in front of buyers. Nowadays there are entry points like the Black List site.
— Suzanne Allain (@suzanneallain) May 6, 2015
And I see she follows my blog on Twitter (@suzanneallain).
UPDATE #2: Heard back from Suzanne:
— Suzanne Allain (@suzanneallain) May 6, 2015
Yes, the competition is fierce, but if you write a script which has the potential to draw attention, there are pathways into Hollywood to put your script in a position to do precisely that. Suzanne is a great reminder of that fact.