Either way, I feel better now and have gotten back to work networking, taking meetings and pitches from hopeful writers that want to pair up on projects.
Recently, I had an experience that left me thinking about all of the things I wish people knew before they pitched me their idea or asking me to meet with them. So I've decided to lay that information out in this blog post. And hopefully, I'll be able to make this a regular dumping ground for helpful advice.
So here goes...
1. Remember that reading scripts is a chore and reading a bad script is torture
The most annoying words to hear are "Will you read my script?" Why? Because reading scripts is boring. It takes two hours (I'm a slow reader) out of your life and there are very low odds of getting a return on that invested time. On top of that, the script might be really bad and you have to try to figure out how to have a very awkward conversation the next time you see the writer of said script. It's a lot of commitment. This is why a lot of established producers only take submissions from writers who are represented. It shows that the person has been given the "industry thumbs up", in terms of writing skills.
Unfortunately, newbie producers - like myself - often read scripts by writers who don't have that thumbs up yet. So there's a high chance of spending hours and hours reading scripts that need page one rewrites. This is important to keep in mind when asking someone to read your script. Know that you are asking for a few hours of their time and they are already expecting the worst. One thing you can do before you give your script to a producer is give it to a good friend or family member that doesn't mind reading your stuff and will give you an honest opinion. This way, you can do a few rewrites that might help you to better your script before giving it to someone who may not be as enthusiastic to read it in the first place.
2. Practice your pitch
Don't expect to have an hour long conversation with a producer about your script. Practice your elevator pitch. If you can't give the person an idea of your story in 10 minutes or less, then you don't have a handle on your story. So go get a handle on your story.
3. Compliments mean nothing
If you have shown your script to everybody and they're mama but no one has agreed to put things into motion for your project, it doesn't matter how many compliments you've received. Compliments in Hollywood mean nothing. If anything, it can be a bad sign if all you've received for your script have been compliments. In entertainment, a good idea is like gold. Everyone wants to find a way to connect themselves to you or your idea because they're seeing dollar signs. But if no one sees dollar signs, they will give you a compliment (to be rid of you) and keep it moving. The only exception is if they're not able to help you, i.e. Grandmom or the grocery store clerk. Unless Mee-maw is green lighting movies as her side job or working the mailroom at UTA, her compliments mean nothing.
4. Be deliberate about who you're sharing your script with
This goes along with what I mentioned in #3. If you want your script to actually go somewhere, don't be willy-nilly about who you're giving it out to. I'm not just coming from the perspective of being careful about copyright infringement, but also of being careful of how you're expending your energy. Have a plan about who reads it and why. If you're giving it to the grocery store clerk, is it because he's Steven Spielberg's cousin? Don't just give it to people who can't do anything for you. Do your research and have a plan for who you want to read your script and why.
5. Spelling and grammatical errors are a no-no
I really wish I didn't have to put this particular piece of advice on the list, because you would think it's obvious, but here we are. Spelling and grammar are super important because they give anyone who reads your script faith in your writing abilities. Errors are distracting. They make you look like a sloppy writer who didn't put thought or care into your script. Formatting is important too, but if your story is exceptionally good, it can be overlooked. But bad spelling and grammar, not so much. If you're not good with spelling and/or grammar, get help before sending your script out. This is the first and easiest way to weed out a writer because often times bad spelling/grammar is indicative of a bad script. And for the record, the occasional misspelled word or grammatical error is to be expected, but more than three or four and there's a huge problem.
6. Money is the point
Whatever project you're pitching expect that the producer is going to have to figure out a way to get funding for it. A cool movie about a spaceship crash landing into the middle of a Spartan battle may sound like a hundred million dollar headache to the person you're pitching it to. Understand that some stories are not meant for first time directors, producers or indie features. But mainly, money is the bottom line and whoever you're pitching to will need to see dollar signs (and a plethora of promotional opportunities) before they can move forward with your project. Think about these things when you're deciding who to pitch to and how.
7. If you want to direct, you must prove that you can
I think I've only gotten a pitch from two writers who didn't want to direct their own feature. Unfortunately, it's hard to find investors for first time directors. Investors are wealthy people and many of them didn't get to that point by giving out money to people by taking risks with no research. They want to know what they're getting into. So unless you want your producer to take off running, if you want to direct the script you wrote, make sure that you have projects under your belt that showcase your awesome directing ability. If they are blown away by your directing, then maybe you'll be able to direct your script. But keep in mind, a big name or up-and-coming director draws in investors and money like flies to honey, so if you want to direct your script with no strong experience, the odds are against you in finding a producer to back you up.
8. Be gracious
Never take for granted when someone has read your script. It's time consuming. Be considerate of that and genuinely thank them. If they only give you a compliment and then dip, see if you can get their thoughts on it. If they actually give you their real thoughts and mix in some words of advice or notes, take those notes seriously. Don't get defensive. Don't argue. Don't dismiss them. Go home and cry and punch a pillow if you have to but remember that you want your script sold and produced. And if you can't take advice on how to get that done, then it's not about the script... it's about you. Don't make it about you. You don't have to take every bit of advice that's thrown at you as not everybody is a good fit for your project and not everybody knows what's in the best interest for your project. But don't go around punishing people for being honest with you. Honesty is better than a compliment any day of the week.
That's all I got. Now go and be great!