A few days ago, Jeff Willis, VP of Business Affairs and Production Administration at The Weinstein Company, took on the cottage industry which is screenplay consultants. It’s an important subject, one which Jeff handled with great insight and wisdom. Reprinted in its entirety by permission.
I have more to say than could fit into #scriptchat, so I figured it deserved its own timeslot where I can go into more detail. Here goes:
Q: Advice on finding reputable script consultants? @cr8screenwriter #scriptchat
I’m assuming this Q is about paid script consultants, so my comments are geared toward the “money in exchange for feedback” relationship.
And I’m going to preface this by saying I really don’t like the idea of paid script consultants.
You’re far better off finding friends, networked connections, and/or fellow writers you respect and asking them for a favor.
You can often get great, insightful feedback for as little as a reciprocal read. You don’t need to pay someone to ensure good feedback.
I actually think that exchanging money for feedback can potentially compromise the quality and honesty of the advice.
I don’t think every consultant does it consciously or maliciously, but running a business where your customers pay for your opinions…
… means that there’s an inherent incentive to make that feedback experience positive regardless of the merits of the work.
Full disclosure, I used to do script consulting. I stopped because I found myself in this exact position where I knew a script…
…was destined for failure, but I wanted to find something positive and helpful to say since the client was paying me to advise them.
Even though I gave them legitimate helpful advice, I regret that I wasn’t more comfortable saying, “You should probably let this script go.”
One of the most useful lessons you can learn in screenwriting is when to let a project go and focus your energy in a new direction.
Paid consultants build their livelihood around helping you continue to develop a project, and that’s not always the best course of action.
I’d rather have my work read by someone with no vested interest, who will honestly tell me if they think it’s worth fixing up or forgetting.
That said, let’s assume you’ve decided your project is an absolute winner and you’re willing to do what it takes to make it a success.
And let’s pretend for a second that you’re determined to pay for a script consultant’s feedback. What are some things to look out for?
The number one thing to keep in mind is that each consultant is only one person giving his or her personal opinion, and…
… there’s no such thing as a script expert who can provide you with objective tools or methods that will guarantee success.
Consultants should be up front about what they can provide. Which, at best, is only an individual opinion of how to proceed with a script.
If you’re looking to pay someone for script consulting, make sure you really know whose opinion you’re paying for.
There are a lot of consultants out there who are failed screenwriters and/or have never worked for a legitimate company in the industry.
It’s one thing to get consulting from a former VP of Development at WB. It’s another to get it from someone without legit industry history.
And I’m talking about real entertainment industry insight… not the cottage industry that caters to advising aspiring screenwriters.
Even if the consultant does have practical experience or excellent advice, you have to remember that it’s still only ONE PERSON.
Before you pay a consultant, put an upper limit on what you think one opinion is worth. Ignore the fancy sales pitch and ask yourself…
… how much would I pay for one person’s feedback on my work? Is this person’s one opinion worth what they’re charging?
Don’t buy into promises of access to the industry. At the end of the day, you’re just buying a set of notes from ONE PERSON.
Everyone’s maximum amount will differ, but I personally wouldn’t pay more than $100-$200 for feedback and that’s only if the “expert” had…
… legitimate, verifiable, current industry experience. I wouldn’t pay at all for someone without a resume of work in the real industry.
This is also why I quit paid consulting. To be worth my time, I needed to charge more than I think any one opinion is worth, even my own.
I researched some script consultants for this week’s tweet series. Let’s do a game like @clmazin & @johnaugust did on their “rules” podcast.
Here are three statements made by a prominent script consultant/author of screenwriting advice books in a recent interview:
Consultant Statement #1: “Even if the writing is going smoothly, you must write a minimum of five drafts to have a successful screenplay.”
Dictating a minimum number of drafts one MUST write is the kind of bogus rule that’d probably propel @clmazin’s Umbrage Meter into the red.
Consultant Statement #2: “Indie projects may not be great money, but at least you’ll get a produced project and some screenings out of it.”
FALSE. There is no guarantee an indie project will get made. While I appreciate the sentiment that beginning writers should look for…
…opportunities outside studio spec sales, this statement shows a profound lack of understanding about how difficult indies are to make.
Just b/c you’re offered a deal on an indie movie doesn’t mean that movie is guaranteed to be produced and released with your credit on it.
Consultant Statement #3: “Hollywood’s originality problem is b/c most execs are young/inexperienced & can’t recognize fresh ideas/voices.”
FALSE. Some of the smartest, most dynamic executives and reps in town are younger ones trying to make a name for themselves with new ideas.
Also, there are a ton of executives with 10+ years of experience. It’s hardly an industry full decision makers who are recent college grads.
A statement like that is someone trying to ascribe cause to an effect they’ve noticed but don’t have the practical experience to understand.
Keep in mind these three statements came from a “veteran” script consultant that charges over $1,000 for their services.
Would you pay a thousand bucks to someone who doesn’t understand modern indie filmmaking or industry rationale behind which movies are made?
Or might upsell you on paying for feedback on 4 additional drafts because “that’s the minimum number of drafts a screenwriter MUST write?”
Don’t make the mistake of paying a consultant for perceived access. No legitimate industry professional will pass along a script for money.
A true industry pro’s reputation is more important than the few hundred bucks a pop they’d make by deluging contacts with unvetted scripts.
With a script consultant, you’re never paying for access. You’re paying for feedback. Promises of access come in three flavors…
… 1) from those without any valuable connections, 2) from those who are no longer taken seriously by their valuable connections, or…
…3) from those who imply they MIGHT pass along a script IF it’s great. Which means you’re paying a premium for the barest HOPE of access.
Not every script consultant is a cheat or a charlatan. But if you want feedback on your script, why spend money if you don’t have to?
Try making some connections with other screenwriters first. Offer them feedback on their script in exchange for feedback on yours.
Even if you live in a remote cabin in Alaska, if you can read this tweet you have the ability to find an online writer’s group or community.
Trade reads and notes with other writers. You’re all in the same boat… trade feedback so you don’t have to pay for it each time.
But if you’re really determined to pay for a consultant, do your research and make sure their feedback is something you legitimately need.
And by legitimately need, I mean that they provide a unique perspective or service that you can’t find anywhere else.
PROTIP: I’ve been in this business over 10 years and have yet to find a situation where someone has legitimately NEEDED to pay for feedback.
PROTIP: Over those 10 years, I also haven’t found a measurable difference between paid feedback and unpaid feedback from writer friends.
Many of said writer friends I even met online on message boards, chat forums, and writing groups.
Look at a consultant’s resume, clients, etc. The industry-connected ones should have more than just other aspiring writers on their roster.
At the end of the day, this advice isn’t much different than the advice I give about finding legit production companies or reps…
… go into it with open eyes and a healthy amount of skepticism. Ignore the hype and promises of wild success and ask yourself…
…if this person truly has knowledge, experience, insight, etc. that will benefit you in a tangible way that you can’t get anywhere else.
I bet you can find someone whose feedback is just as good that won’t charge you for the privilege of reading your work.
That’s all I’ve got on script consultants. Tune in next week when I’ll tackle my last topic from the #scriptchat Q&A!
It’ll be about lessons I’ve learned from my career as an exec that have carried over to my writing. Courtesy of @sarahalexis4
What Jeff said. Let me add this point: You are paying a script consultant to provide feedback on precisely that: Your script. While that script is important, frankly it is not as critical as you developing as a writer. It does you little good if you end up with a serviceable script which opens a door for you into Hollywood, if you don’t have your act together as a writer. You are looking to have a career… not just sell a script. To do that:
You need to spend time reading scripts.
You need to spend time watching movies.
You need to spend time learning writing practices that enable you to work efficiently.
You need to spend time immersing yourself in the business of making movies.
You need to spend time soaking up culture (e.g, books, music, poetry, art, current events, history).
You need to spend time growing into yourself as a human being.
You need to spend time developing communication skills so you are good in a room.
You need to spend time studying how professional writers of all types go about their business.
You need to spend time writing a script… then another script… then another script.
You need to spend time generating story ideas and writing treatments.
You need to spend time growing your unique writer’s voice.
You need to spend time pulling all of this together into a process you can use over and over again to write scripts under deadline while tapping into your creativity.
In other words, it’s not just about the script. It’s about evolving into a person who can handle the ups and downs, ins and outs, and everything else that comes with being a professional writer.
And no script consultant can help you with that.
So bottom line: Buyer beware! One of the reasons I started this blog is to provide reliable information and realistic inspiration for free, precisely to counter the negative influence of many in the script consulting ‘industry’.
Do yourself a favor: Focus on that current script you’re writing. But do it in the context of the larger scheme of things: Growing as a writer on all fronts.
About Jeff Willis: Jeff has spent the past decade working in studio business affairs and production management. He started his career as an assistant at Beacon Pictures (BRING IT ON, AIR FORCE ONE), then moved on to work with startup production companies Our Stories Films (WHO’S YOUR CADDY, JUMPING THE BROOM) and Troika Pictures (THE CALL). He’s been with The Weinstein Company (DJANGO UNCHAINED, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK) for the past four years and currently serves as their Vice President of Business Affairs & Production Administration. Jeff is also a screenwriter; his first produced feature (THE RIGHT GIRL, written with Bob Saenz (@bobsnz)) is in post-production and due to air on Pixl TV and ABC Family in the coming months.
You may follow Jeff on Twitter: @jwillis81.