Monday, April 06, 2009

Buyer be ware

I don't know how many of my readers are new writers. I don't entirely know how many readers I have, but I was informed this weekend that many of them reside in Oregon.


Anyway, I woke up this morning thinking about scams. I know two people who are trying to perpetrate a scam on new screenwriters, although they really don't realize that what they're offering is a scam, and it bugs me. These aren't close friends so I'm mostly keeping my mouth shut, although I have expressed my concerns just once before I let it go. What followed was a load of indignant huffing, so I've just sat back and watched, shaking my head.

But I can post about it.

I know one guy who wants to start a screenwriting contest because "They make a ton of money." That's the reason. Now this guy has never even worked as a reader, never even worked for a studio. His experience is the same as anybody in town - PA on a couple of TV shows, wrote a few unproduced screenplays, knows a few people in the industry, got a film school degree.

See, he figures if he charges people $30, then only reads the first 15 pages for the first round of judging and does it all with himself and his friends, he can make a fortune. He can offer a prize of a few $100 and sending your script to producers, who are most likely guys who made some crappy independent horror films that made no money and went straight to video.

Always read the details of the contest carefully. And don't assume that because Creative Screenwriting mentioned it that it's legit. Go to the website, read the fine print, read up on the experience of previous winners.

I also know a woman who's planning to start a film class. She'll do a lot of her work online, with a monthly meeting in person for those who live in town. People will send her pages, she will give them notes and guidance, and they will build their screenplays over time. She will basically makes herself a professor of film. What's her experience? She made a documentary a few years ago that she screened and made no money from, and she made a bunch of short films and completed her thesis project in film school.

You should see how she lists the credentials in her bio. It's all about how many films she's made in her career and how her documentary was an overwhelming success in independent theaters.

She's also planning to charge $1,000 for a 3 week course, and she's implying that her course in on par with a UCLA film school degree.

Why is she doing this? Officially, she wants to share her knowledge of film with students who can't afford film school and need guidance. Unofficially, money. She has to spend no money to make a ton.

Just because someone is on IMDB does not mean they have the foggiest idea of how to teach. It doesn't even mean they have the foggiest idea how to make a movie, just that they've played in a festival or been mentioned in a trade publication.

Research, research, research. Does this person have testimonials about their success from more than one person? Have their films actually made any money? Did they write a book or do they have a website - some source where you can learn about their general attitude and philosophy of film? Ask questions. But if somebody says they can guarantee your film will be this and that after you go through their program, they're most likely full of shit.

Don't fork over your money unless you know it's worth your time.


  1. I used to be a reader of yours from Oregon. Sadly, not anymore.

  2. And then there are those idiots who do it just because they love it.


  3. Matt: Portland gave me crabs.
    Emily: who ARE these people? CS would love to know about this; call Bill Donavan and be a hero (in this as in all things)

  4. Meanwhile, the rest of us are working our asses off trying to make a living actually writing screenplays.

    So, I know this guy who teaches screenwriting classes in person. He always name drops, "When I was working with Spielberg, he told me..." "When I was doing a film with James Cameron, he gave me this great advice..." I met this guy at some writing conference where he's doing classes, like me, so I think he's for real. And much much more important than I am. And he acts like he's more important than I am. More important than you are. More important than everyone is.

    One day, I'm watching some danged movie on TV... and there he is! An extra in a scene. In the background of a scene. Not a featured extra. So I imdb him, and he has worked with all of these important people... as an extra in their movies. Never had a script made, and I'm guessing he's also never sold one.

    But he makes a living teaching screenwriting, because George Lucas once told him...

    - Bill

  5. Anonymous11:54 PM

    I know you won't - but you should make their names, their "contests" and "classes" public. Yes, buyer beware, but if we as writers don't alert each other to these scam artists, who will? Really.

    Even if you just post a fair warning on Done Deal or Moviebytes, you're doing a great service to your peers. To me those people are the worst of the worst in this industry - the kinds who chum at the expos and festivals - I can spot them a mile away and my heart always bleeds when I see them trapping a new writer with their fake promises.

    Have been enjoying your blog for some time. Keep it up, you're the real deal.

  6. I thought about giving the name of these guys, but we have friends in common.

    Both programs are in the beginning stages, so I'm going to wait and see if they start drawing in suckers before I do anything. Yes, it's the cowardly move. I'm a big pussy.


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