Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Ask Ellen! Another Screenwriting Question Answered...

I'm back again, to answer another of your screenwriting questions! 

Speaking of which, do feel free to either post your questions in the comments here on my blog, or tweet them at me (@AudreyDeuxPink) - I'll do my best to answer them as thoroughly as I can. I'll keep doing this as long as the questions keep coming in, so ask away!

By the way, I also tweet all my short-form screenwriting tips through the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency Twitter account (@BFLAgency) - so that's worth a follow if you want snippets of advice from myself and my esteemed colleagues.

Today's question:

What's the best way to get a script sold/made? Agents or going straight to producers/companies?

Well, of course I'm going to say that going through an agent is the best way. Natch. But that's not just because I work for an agency - it's based on my experiences in production companies too.

Most production companies have a strict policy; that they don't accept unsolicited submissions. This means that they will only consider writers or projects that are pitched to them by trusted agents, with whom they will have frequent meetings to discuss their clients. If an individual writer ignores this policy and sends their scripts in, they won't be considered, or even looked at.

This isn't because production companies are staffed by mean-spirited river-dwelling trolls who despise and fear the bright light of new talent - it's because it saves them a LOT of time and protects them (and the writers) from a legal standpoint.

Consider it this way - if a writer has managed to get themselves a respected agent, this is a stamp of that agent's approval. Already, this writer has proven themselves a decent writer in the opinion of at least one seasoned industry professional. Even production companies that clearly state on their websites that they do not accept unsolicited submissions receive literally hundreds of unsolicited submissions every month. This is simply too many scripts for them to reasonably give proper attention and consideration to. By requiring the writer to have an agent first, it helps the production companies to sort out the talented businesslike writers from the hobbyists. Sounds simplistic, but needs must when the alternative is trying to find a way to fit in reading thousands of scripts a year.

Another point is that a writer is far better served in potentially entering into a working relationship with a production company if they have an agent, who is experienced in handling and drafting contracts. If you want to be sure any agreement in which you are participating is in your best interests, it's best if someone has your back who has read and negotiated literally hundreds of these agreements before. Don't be fooled into signing away rights that you don't need to give away in order to get a project off the ground. If a production company has faith in your work, they'll want to deal fairly. An agent helps to weed out those who are less than scrupulous, and ensuring that everyone is properly represented in a contractual agreement prevents complications and legal snafus further down the line - it benefits both sides.


Okay, here goes:

If you want, you can approach things in a more hands-on manner. There are options you can consider BEFORE getting an agent to get your work out there and in front of an audience, and maybe even some producers. You can even perhaps build a fan base for your work, which is the absolute top-of-the-tree golden fleece of fabulousness that all agents and production companies will be delighted by.

So, here's my favourite one.

Put on a play. Go on, I dare you. 

It's not as hard as it looks - if you live in London, there's the Camden Fringe Festival, which is set up specifically to nurture and welcome new writing and performing talent, giving them a platform to showcase their work relatively cheaply and easily. 

It's also cheap and easy (oo-er, sounds a bit rude) to get flyers and posters printed - this is my personal favourite low-price, fast turnaround printing company - and there are ALWAYS actors who are keen to get involved in London theatre. Advertise using a site such as CastingCallPro - though you MUST be upfront and honest if you can't afford to pay your actors, of course - some are happy to work for a share of any profits the show might take. Your main costs will be venue fees and the cost of hiring a decent tech person (this guy's good!) 

I've been producing plays for the Camden Fringe for the last few years (these ones, if you're interested), and it's been a lot of fun. If you don't live in London, find out if your local area has a similar thing (Brighton also has a Fringe Festival, and of course there's the Big One at Edinburgh). If not, are there any local drama groups you can approach to see if they're looking for material? If not, can you form one? Put up posters, advertise on, whatever you gotta do.

Sticking your neck out and making something happen for your work is more impressive than just writing it. It shows commitment, organization, drive - and has the hugely beneficial side-effect of allowing you to see if an audience actually enjoys and connects with your work. In comedy, you can test out gags to see which get big laughs and which fall flat. You never really know how a room full of people is going to react to your material until you've tried this out; crowds can be gloriously unpredictable. Seeing your work performed in front of a live audience can give you far more valuable lessons in writing craft than any academic course. Put simply, it shows you bluntly what works and what doesn't.

I've been to a few play performances here in London, and a few 'rehearsed readings' of scripts when an unsolicited submitter has contacted me to invite me. Of course, I can't feasibly go to all of them - but a performance does give you an 'event' to which you can try inviting agents. If your play manages to create enough of a 'buzz', you might even find production companies start to take an interest in you...

...BUT then they'll most likely insist that you get an agent before they'll be able to deal with you. Because you need an advocate who can skilfully negotiate the contract to avoid misunderstandings and complications further down the line.

So it does all tend to come back to the fact that it is best (for most people) to have an agent first. That way, the agent can worry about the nitty-gritty legal stuff, and you can save your time and energy for being brilliantly creative. And, because they're taking meetings and 'bigging you up' to the producers with the power to get you paid, you won't have your material automatically rejected for being 'unsolicited'. WIN.

PS - Getting a script sold and getting a script made are completely different matters.

A huge number of projects that are optioned and developed don't make it to the screen. In TV, it can be for reasons such as the broadcasters' commissioners not finding it quite to their taste, or the fact that they've already got a similar project on their slate. In film, it can be because the funding or co-production falls through, for example. 

There are many reasons why your script might make you some money and yet never get made - don't dwell on it. If you're getting paid to write, you're winning. Often, you can even get the rights to the project back later on, so can try it again in the future. Writing is the fun part - getting to see your work onscreen is kind of a huge, lovely bonus when it happens. So enjoy it when it does, but don't consider it the marker of success.

Right! One more done! The next one I'll answer, in a few days, will be:

Are writing competitions worthwhile? 

Looks like a short question, but I can already feel another long answer coming on... ;-)

Monday, 14 October 2013

Ask Aunt Ellen! Screenwriting Advice Column

This post has taken me a little longer than I had intended to put together - my apologies!
A while ago, I tweeted to ask for your screenwriting questions. Now that I work in the media department of a literary agency, and as I have a background in film production and development, I thought it would be fun to see what I could come up with in response to your queries.

You didn't disappoint me (thank you, Twitterers!), but because I'm rather slammed at the moment, I'm going to answer the questions one at a time over the next couple of weeks.

So here's the first one:

What comes first, the writer, the talent, the script, or the agent?

Personally, I don't think you can separate the writer from the talent. Unfortunately, without that spark of creative brilliance, one is an enthusiastic hobbyist rather than what I would define as a 'writer' - ie someone who can make writing into a solid career path rather than something one does for fun alone. 

That may be the agent in me talking - of course I don't mean that one must make all of one's income from writing in order to be deemed a 'writer'. It's more about PROMISE than achievement, to my mind. If I read a truly excellent script by someone who hasn't had their 'big break' yet, to me they are just as much a writer as a seasoned veteran of the industry.

So, you're a writer with talent, who has written a script. Great! Now write another one. And another one. And a few more. Now redraft the best ones a few times until they're honestly as good as they can be. Get feedback from other writers, from people you know who you can trust to be brutally honest. Writing is not the solitary vocation many take it for - if other people don't like your work, it doesn't really matter how much you like it - it won't get made, and thus you won't get paid - unless others like it too. 

You need several scripts in your 'arsenal', as an agent will want to feel that you're interested in a career, not just 'selling a script' as a one-off. The number of submissions I see that begin with 'I need your help to sell my script...' or 'I'm looking for an agent to represent my script...' - that's a red flag to agents. Since we're going to be building a professional relationship with YOU, not your script, we want to feel that you take your writing career seriously and want to do more in the future than just one project - we want to feel that you've got a career in mind rather than 15 minutes of fame.

So now you've got a few scripts you think are, as they say, 'da bomb'. You're ready to try sending them to agents, to see if they're interested in taking you on as a client.

And here's an important part. Probably THE MOST important part:


It makes sense, when you think about it - for example, if you write comedy, you'll want to have an agent who has lots of great contacts in the comedy production world. If you send it to an agent who mostly represents historical drama writers, they are far less likely to be interested in representing you, no matter how good your comedy script is. It's simply not their area of expertise, or enthusiasm. So do your homework, and submit to agencies that like your sort of work.

Another tip there - try to find out who the newest agent is at each agency. If your research suggests they seem to like your genre of work, submit to them as they're most likely to be taking on clients (much more so than the more established agents who already have lots of clients - there are only so many hours in a day and so there is a limit to the number of clients a single agent can realistically have on their books). 

The newbie agent gets the benefit of working alongside the heavy-hitters, and also has the clout of their agency's name behind them, so you get the best of both worlds - someone who'll have the time and enthusiasm to champion your work thoroughly, as well as some kudos to back it up.

So there's your answer - writer and talent come joint first, then script (and script, and script, etc) - then agent. 

If you try getting an agent with anything less than the best work you're capable of, you're selling yourself short and will either end up with a sub-par agent or a huge pile of rejections. So write your arse off first!

Thank you for your question! The next question I will answer (in a couple of days) is:

What's the best way to get a script sold/made? Agents or going straight to producers/companies?

Thursday, 13 June 2013

About Fifty Billion Bits of News


If you're reading this, my apologies for my lack of posting over the past year.

If you're not reading this, I'm not sorry at all because you clearly don't care. You swine.

I've had some lovely news - Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, with whom I've been working lately, are hiring me in their Media Department to assist the agents representing writers of Film, Television and Theatre. My intention is to soak up any and all info like a great big Northern sponge, until I'm able to progress to having my own clients one day. 

So I'll be launching myself enthusiastically into script notes, contract wording, rights investigating and much more. Heaven! 

Drop me a line if you have a proven script-writing track record, want representation and have written a top-notch, excellent, unique and fabulous script. I'm always happy to check scripts out, although it can take a while. Please read submissions guidelines here first.

I'm also doing some script reading for the London Screenwriters' Festival this year with Lucy V Hay, which is a fabulous learning-and-networking event. Check it out!

And one more bit of news; the eloquent and hilarious Steve Jordan and I are producing PILGRIM SHADOW, another Fringe comedy this year, on at the Tristan Bates 29th July-3rd August. Come and see! More info on that here.

Much love and pretentious air-kisses,