Friday, October 09, 2009

Shady Dealings

Yesterday I was reading the latest Ink Tip newsletter when I came across a company seeking a zombie script. They had all these criteria for what they wanted, and ended with the information that it would be written "on spec" and "only non-WGA writers need apply" and the budget had yet to be determined. That means they have no money, no way of obtaining money, and if by some miracle they do ever have enough money to pay you, it will add up to tuppence.

It occurred to me as I read this that a lot of new writers may not see the warning signs on that job. I don't know how many of my readers are new writers, but it can't hurt to go over some of the more popular scams out there meant to take advantage of the enthusiasm and eagerness of a beginner.

So here are a few of the more popular scams you will run across:

1) Agents who charge fees. Any agent who wants to represent you gets paid only when you get paid. If they are asking for ANY money up front, it's a scam. Walk away. It sucks because for a few minutes of your life you thought you'd found an agent and now your hopes are dashed. Nonetheless, walk away and find a real agent. The WGA has a list, Done Deal has a list that's constantly updated, and you can always consult the Hollywood Creative or Representation Directories for lists of legitimate agents. This scam is VERY common, so watch out.

2) Agents who require coverage. A variation on the first scheme, some agents will require you to have your script read by a company they recommend before they will consider representing you. Those readers they recommend so enthusiastically are their own people. They will take your fee for the coverage, give you bullshit feedback, and if you hear from them again at all it will be a series of stalling techniques. A legitimate agent will read your script himself or send your script to their own readers for coverage and won't expect you to pay for it.

3) "We'll pay you in profits" or any other form of this statement. Now sometimes you'll have a director in film school or just starting out who needs a script and they can't pay you for your script. That's okay. You get a copy of the movie and a credit and they get experience and a credit of their own. But sometimes you'll see an ad on Craigslist asking for a writer who will write a feature and be paid only if the film makes money. It's bullshit. Most films don't make money. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a lie; you just have to ask a lot of questions and research the company. If they sound even slightly shady, run.

4) An American agency with an address outside LA or NY. They're not a scam, necessarily, but their chances of being able to further your career are pretty slim. Deals are done here, and if you don't live here you need to make damn sure your agent does.

Help me out, guys. What else is scammy or misleading to new screenwriters?


  1. I get suspicious of that Inktip "Scripts Wanted" news letter every time I read it.

    Every listing starts off: "We are looking for completed feature-length..." Now, what are the odds of all these people starting their requests with the EXACT SAME choice of words. They also use to always write "in the vein of..." but I see they suddenly quit using that word.

    I think one person writes them all and there are no production companies..

  2. I've always been leery of script "consultants." Paying someone, especially someone without credentials either in production or by actually selling a script, seems foolish to me.

    I'm also strongly against paying someone for "access" to "agents, production companies, etc." Most of the time these people are recruited to attend these events, but don't have the power to say "yes."

    And, if you're going to pony up X dollars to attend one of these events, why not skip the middle man--there's another, much more focused way.

    And contest. There's probably only four (think hard, you know the ones) worth anything at all.

    Oh, and Ink Tip--here's a blog: about them. Positive review of sorts, then again what would you expect them to say?

  3. Oh yeah, and that reminds me of the query blasting services that send your script as a piece of junk mail to increasingly annoyed producers.

  4. I've recently come across these...

    Management companies that automatically attach themselves as producers of your spec if they or YOU manage to sell it. That needs to be discussed up front.

    Another one...

    Management companies existing outside Los Angeles who take almost everyone's work and then blasting emails and newsletters to hundreds of Los Angeles based production companies in order to sell your work. Some also attach themselves as producers. These places have no real contacts in the industry. They work on the numbers game i.e., they take on everyone and their brother in hopes that by having sheer numbers of material and sending out mass quantities of emails and snail mail that they'll hook someone with a logline and short synopsis.

    The good news is that every once in a while, these places do actually end up selling a script.

    15% right off the top.


  5. Wow. That's like the trifecta of scams.

  6. Then there's always these situations:

    And should I mention Craig's List? I didn't think so.

    And, finally, if someone is asking you for money up front for their "services." it's time to say goodbye.

  7. Ramone11:55 PM

    I think the idea that there are four legit screenwriting contests is pretty generous. In the annals of professional screenwriting, how many working screenwriters started their careers from a contest win? 99 out of a 100 times, when a first time screenwriter sells a script, it's because they moved to LA, wrote a bunch of quality scripts (or worked in stand-up, comics, or writing novels), made some good connections through working or going to film school, got representation, and eventually sold a script. The only problem is, that path is hard to sell, so they create this myth of the contest winner from Duluth who is jetted off to Hollywood and sells his script for high six figures.

    What's worse, most of these contests seem to make their real money of the associated BS ephemera (DVDs, seminars, notes services, etc.). Obviously learning the most you can about screenwriting is great, but these contests seem to have insane prices for their material, which (from what I've seen) seems to be pretty content deficient. Most of the people you meet at these expos and seminars, no matter what their business cards say, are never going to be able to help you. When I was in film school, most of the people in my class were interning for production companies or bigger agencies. Every time one of these expos would come around, they would send all of us (the interns) to these expos to be their representatives, usually with made up titles of “Associate Creative Executive”. Any script we would agree to read meant that we would be the ones reading it, for free. That chances of us being promoted for finding that gold in the coal had to be weighed by every weekend for six months ruined by reading shitty scripts from people who weren't really taking their careers seriously.

    Also, here's a good tip for determining if your management is legit. Do they represent anyone who has done anything? Has anyone they represent sold anything at all, ever? If the answer is no, your answer should be no. Most legit management companies are formed from agents or managers from different companies breaking off after a number of years to form their own group, taking with them at least a nominal number of working clients.

  8. I think you can be pretty comfortable with InkTip. They look out for the writer.

  9. Producers who require nudity... from the writers.

    - Bill

  10. Wait, Bill, you're telling me that was a scam?

    Son of a bitch!

  11. Anonymous10:26 AM

    K.I.S (Keep It Simple).

    Stick with producers that have a budget(set up, not only on paper but in the BANK!) and proven track record...

    Stick with producers who are working full-time and financially confident risk-takers...

    Stick with producers who are in control of their finance because they work for a living...for production houses or other media companies....

    Stick with producers who are "family man" and who are serious about life and family in general....

    You can find them at the Independent film festivals....

    Don't network with the internet, go out there and talk with them and become part of their circles of friends...

    Don't network with producers who hide behind the internet...

  12. Although I agree with the first few things you said, Anonymous, I have to disagree on a couple of things. I don't think there's anything wrong with networking on the Internet, especially if you live outside LA. And I don't really see what being a family man has to do with being a good producer. In fact, I'm not sure what being a man has to do with being a good producer.

  13. Anonymous4:38 AM

    They love the script and want to make a "short" out of it so they can use that as a marketing tool to shop around and try to get financing for the full movie -- but of course they want the writer to cough up the dough for the short, and yes, this was offered to me once


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