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This week's question: 

I don’t mean to be vindictive, but there sure seems to be a lot of “vultures” out there on the Web who either don’t want to pay for my screenplays or pay a paltry sum or might even want to steal my work.  I’ve gotten pretty discouraged about it.  Do you have any advice about how to go about choosing the right companies to show my work to?

Clara from North Carolina

This week's Answer: 

Screenwriter’s Web

Clara, that’s very well written.  If you could write me up about 120 pages of something like that in a thriller genre, I’ll be sure to get back to you real soon.   Just playing with you.  It seems that you have found yourself in the Bermuda Screenplay Triangle, a mysterious vortex, where many a Screenwriting Sailor has unexpectedly lost sight of his or her precious cargo.  Or, possibly, you’ve been boarded by pirates (and I do mean “pirates”) who have absconded with your valuable compositions.  (“Arrrrrr, m’ hearties, throw the lot of them thar scribes o’rbard, but, first, be quick, and strip ‘em all of what they be scribin’!)  Don’t despair; it happens to the best of us.  Wherever there is money to be made from the creative talents of others, there will be those who will attempt to do so in a disreputable and dishonorable (that’s definitely “disin’” you) fashion.  Greed abounds.  Selfishness is its twin.  (And if there are triplets, God help us who that could be.)  It’s true:  The “biz” is replete with rapacious vultures, slimy snakes, bottom-feeding snails, cunning wild cats... Hey, maybe there should be a Show Biz Zoo, where we screenwriters can visit.  There could be a tour guide that points out the latest predator, and a sign, which reads:  “Don’t Let The Animals Read Your Scripts.”  I’d go.

Referring more distinctly to the aforementioned problem in regards to the Web, “web” is a good word for it because, in a sense, you have to be careful to not get trapped or hung up in a type of spider’s web, where unsuspecting screenwriters and their work are ambushed by deadly Screenplay Stealing Spiders (what’s with all these animal allusions?  Maybe it was that creature feature marathon I watched this weekend) that paralyze their victims with a Promise You The World Venom, wrap them up in Pretend I Can Do Something For You silk, and come back for them later as the main course of a Plagiarize Pizza Party.  Not a pretty picture.  Here’s another one:  Have you fallen prey (there’s that creature metaphor again) to those websites that tell you that they really want to help you with your script, submit it to the top, top people in the industry (whoever they are), but, first, there’s a But First Clause.  Don’t you just love those?  But first we’ll need to evaluate your script.  Which will cost you a nominal sum of $9,000 dollars.  THEN we’ll be happy to submit it. (I know I exaggerate, but, hey, you know that famous quote:  “Exaggeration is the spice of life.”  Actually, it’s not a famous quote.  I made it up.  I was exaggerating.).  I’d say that’s very nice of them, submitting your script, wouldn’t you?  (And exactly what does “submit” really mean?  Are we talking about dropping off a pile of scripts to an overworked reader at a studio?  Or simply sending attachments with screenplays to some office worker’s e-mail address?  I “submit” that for the jury’s consideration.)  Now, I’m not saying that these so-called creatures -- I mean “individuals,” -- who run these types of companies are all devious, unconscionable, reprehensible, and nefarious businessmen.  (I’d never say that.)  But, if I were you (and thank goodness I’m not because then we’d have a hard time telling whose towel is whose), I’d make sure I had my Conflict Of Interest Detector working.  And the conflict is not just with their interest.  Watch for how it conflicts with your interest.  Your interest in selling your screenplay.  Your interest in selling your screenplay for a decent amount of money that is proportionate to all the time and energy you put into it.  Your interest in being treated fairly.

Here’s my advice about how to go about showing your work.  First, get the stars out of your eyes (not that it’s probably quite a dazzling and pretty lightshow that you’re seeing).  Let’s call the nefarious businesses I referred to as “These Companies,” shall we?  These Companies depend on that stardust, that Hollywood glitter, to obscure your vision.  Remember that screenwriting, as creatively exciting as it can be, is also a business.  Keep your eye on the second word of “show business.”  Second, NEVER, and I mean NEVER (did I say “NEVER”?) send out any material until you feel comfortable with whom to whom you are sending (that’s a mouthful.  If you say it slowly, it could be a mantra:  “I send material only until I am comfortable with whom to whom I am sending...  I send material only... “ We could start a Screenwriter’s Ashram, where we all meditate our screenplays into existence, manifesting them by bringing them in from the Blockbuster and Mega-hit Creative Plane.  That’s a great idea.  And I could be the head guru and you could entrust all your worldly goods ((including your screenplays)) to me.  When I don’t show up for a few months and return in my Rolls, we could all give praise.  I mention this never-to-happen parable just to point out that wolves come in more than just sheep’s clothing.  Or producer’s clothing.  Or agent’s clothing.  Or investor’s clothing.  Or Anybody Who Looks Too Good To Be True’s clothing.) Third, send out feelers.  Feelers is the way, I have found.  Write a courteous e-mail; introduce yourself and what you have to offer (just a logline, never your full story.  Not even a synopsis.  Not until you know who you’re dealing with.  And you could be doing it with “card sharks.”  I promise:  that will be the last “creature” allegory.  Promise.)  After you’ve done that, most likely, by one of These Company’s response (or lack of response), you’ll soon know if you want to take the next step with it.  Even then, careful:  How’s that saying go?  The next step is a doozey.  Watch yourself every step of the way.  As Jewel so aptly pointed out:  Trust your intuition.  (And if you don’t have any, I’m sure I can help you get some.  But first you need to send $9,000.)


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