An important rant (though long) from the Founder of Screenwriting Staffing, Jacob N. Stuart.
My motivation as I was writing this column, similar to the mom who “beat” her son for throwing rocks at police cars in Baltimore, does not come from any sort of deep-rooted hatred towards “certain” screenwriters, but rather my deep-rooted LOVE and compassion for screenwriting as an art form. I hope this post sheds some light on something that’s overlooked far too much!
Regardless of your reputation and importance in this industry, as a screenwriter, this is a problem that’s affecting ALL of us…
Screenwriters are going extinct and here’s why:
It’s not because we lost our ways in storytelling. It’s not because technology has outsmarted us. And it’s not because we haven’t attended enough “storytelling” seminars .
It’s because we are selfish, self-absorbed, and inconsiderate. Industry professionals are frustrated and tired of dealing with anyone who labels oneself as a “screenwriter” these days.
Why do I say that? Hold on, I’m getting to it.
As a screenwriter, what do we want? We want producers (Hollywood game-changers) to read our work, right?
Most screenwriters will admit that writing the actual screenplay was the easiest part of the process. Because getting you work read, by the “right” people, is nearly impossible.
Writers sit around online chat rooms, coffee shops, and classrooms, making excuses – blaming everyone for being the source to why their scripts can’t get read. Typical excuses and reasons I hear: Hollywood only invests in remakes; producers couldn’t spot a good script if you shoved it up their ass; agents/managers are discriminating, and only connect with friends of friends.
OK. So, I’m going to tell you why scripts aren’t getting read and why the need and demand for screenwriters are quickly dwindling…
Screenwriters can’t follow simple instructions.
I’m not talking about proper “formatting”, or what page number your protagonist should have their “inciting” incident.
No, I’m talking about following basic instructions, rules we were taught in elementary.
A producer posts:
I’m seeking a female-driven romance screenplay, feature-length, with a budget UNDER 1M, in the vein of ‘Titanic’.
A Screenwriter will send:
I have a screenplay that takes place on a HUGE navy ship, NO females, but it’s full of explosions, epic combat scenes, and witty humor. ONLY 11 pages!
OK. So the producer sees this and quickly tosses it in their “junk” folder.
Screenwriter NEVER hears back
Screenwriter then thinks 2 things:
1) This producer must like being broke because she could have made a killing off this idea…
2) This producer must be fake, she didn’t even respond with a “no”.
Here is what the producer thinks:
1) I want a female-driven screenplay, meaning: there needs to be at least ONE female in the cast. But the screenwriter said NO females; only MEN in uniform.
2) I asked for a feature (90+ pages) romance; screenwriter doesn’t even mention a love story, just that the film is full of HUMOR and 11 pages.
3) I need the project UNDER 1M; screenwriter says: this project is full of explosions and fight scenes.
4) I said in the vein of Titanic (meaning story-line); screenwriter says: just like Titanic, my movie takes place on a HUGE ship!
So why does the Producer NOT respond?
The producer took time out of her day to:
1) post a lead to the public.
2) read each submission.
BUT…. the screenwriter decided NOT to follow BASIC directions.
Why should a busy producer even respond with a “NO” or “PASS”?
Most producers/agents tell me if they post an ad and a writer follows instructions (if their time allows) they will follow-up with a “thanks, but NO thanks” – because they DO appreciate the writer taking the time to submit.
So what’s the worst thing that can happen when a writer doesn’t choose to follow instructions?
Well, my close circle of screenwriting friends would say “who cares?” It just makes my “own” writing look better.” It’s less people to “compete with”. We are “thinning the herd”.
But I have a different theory.
Every time a screenwriter doesn’t follow simple submission instructions, it pushes the producer a little closer to the edge.
The producer then views each submission thereafter in a cynical manner.
And… after more and more submissions fail to match their needs, the producer decides to suspend the “search” all together, and revert back to writers they have worked with in the past – or go through an agent.
For the many writers who DO follow instructions, it’s unfortunate… because…
Your submission is NOT being looked at in a fair way….
The producer has LESS respect for screenwriters as a whole…
Decides to close the door on screenwriters in general, leaving our scripts out in the cold.
I have a long-time producer friend who loves finding new screenwriting talent and scripts. The last 2 films he produced got into Sundance, and were ALL from newer screenwriters – officially putting the “2” screenwriters’ on the map.
He used to have a submission form on his site. All you had to do was input your logline, synopsis, and a short bio. Then, upload the signed NDA agreement (that was already provided), and attach it to the form.
So I heard from his assistant he was looking for a new script.
Fantastic. I contacted him and asked the best way my members could submit to him.
I can give you an email address, because I removed the online submission form from my site.
Jokingly, I said:
Let me guess, no one EVER attached the NDA pdf you requested?
No, screenwriters actually stopped submitting through the form a long time ago. They just saw we accepted unsolicited submissions, searched for my personal email and phone number, and harassed me with submissions and pitches…
I stopped in my tracks; I was SO embarrassed.
But why should I be embarrassed? This didn’t happen under my watch at Screenwriting Staffing. This is an isolated incident. Nothing to do with me or my members…
That’s because I was embarrassed as a SCREENWRITER, a screenwriter who wants producers to take my craft seriously.
This story is actually minor compared to most stories I get on a regular basis.
But now, the screenwriters who DO follow instructions, and have exactly what this specific producer is searching for, will NEVER get the opportunity to submit to THIS producer directly via their website – all because of a few knuckleheads.
So when my screenwriting friends choose to smirk at me when they hear stories about screenwriters ruining screenplay searches due to “producers” suspending the search, I take it personally – not because I operate Screenwriting Staffing, but because I’m a SCREENWRITER.
The screenwriter who submits 100 submissions blindly a day, collecting e-mails from an assortment of different sites on the web, already knows, before even sending, that 99 out of 100 of their submissions will get tossed; but they are holding out hope for that “1”.
What they are NOT realizing….
There are now 99 producers who just got spammed by some “screenwriter” while at work, in a meeting, or a family function, being told their script “is the greatest thing since Raging Bull”. And each time they get these e-mails, whether they are actively searching or not searching, they are slowly closing the door on screenwriters.
Some food for thought:
People have this fascination to submit their “spec scripts” when a producer is ONLY seeking a screenwriter to re-write/edit their existing project.
Sounds a lot like desperation. Someone who’s desperate for work; desperate for money; desperate to be heard.
LOOK…. I get it. I fully UNDERSTAND desperation. I also understand eating hand to mouth. I understand the frustration, the anger, the insecurity that comes with not being heard. It’s all very REAL. It SHOULD be, after all, we are ALL writers – it’s in our nature…
But do we really want the people in Hollywood who make things “happen” know how desperate we are?
Producers want a screenwriter that THEY need, NOT the other way around. If a screenwriter can’t read and follow simple instructions, what does this say about their screenplay?
I just made a juicy hamburger and realized I was out of hamburger buns. I go to the local grocery store and ask the CLERK to show me where I could find some “buns”.
So the clerk decides to take me to the frozen food section where they freeze all the hamburger meat.
So, I say:
That’s great. But I already have hamburger meat, I just need a hamburger bun so I can begin eating.
The clerk says:
But you don’t understand. This is the best MEAT in town. And you get it at a fraction of the cost!
So, I say:
No thanks. I have a juicy burger waiting for me. I just need a good, solid bun to compliment the taste. Do you have any buns?
The clerk says:
Yeah – sure, somewhere around here. Go look for them.
And the clerk WALKS off.
Is this the best analogy… maybe not. But isn’t that scenario irritating? Have you ever gone to the store and asked for something, but they insist on showing you something else, and for a while you play along, but then you just can’t take it anymore?
Same goes with producers.
If a producer is seeking a screenwriter to re-write a script, this means the producer already has a script – a script they like. Now all they need is someone to re-write it to fit their personal needs, budget, and cast. They are NOT looking for a new script. All they want is to bring on another writer to compliment their project.
So why would a screenwriter pitch a screenplay to them?
I don’t know Beats me.
If a producer requests a drama screenplay and the screenwriter submits a gory horror, the screenwriter is insinuating 3 things (in my opinion)
– The producer doesn’t know the difference between a drama and a horror film.
– The producer can’t profit off a drama, only a horror, especially “my” horror script.
“Since I spend all my time writing, I sometimes FORGET to read.
If I’m wrong, then why on earth would a screenwriter submit a project, or a different genre, that wasn’t requested?
I’m still stumped.
I spoke to an Agent last month on the phone that told me a few years back she sent out a request all over the internet looking for thrillers that took place in Australia. She knew it was a specific search, so she wanted to use every outlet and platform available to post, in fear she wouldn’t get enough submissions…
Well – she got plenty of submissions (over 400). But ONLY 6 were set in Australia, ONLY 2 of the scripts set in Australia were thrillers.
She told me she responded back to some of them, like this one person who submitted a script about the “drug trade” in CHICAGO. According to her, the writer got really “testy”, telling her she is “missing out on the greatest story in the world because of her discriminatory request”.
What this writer, and all 394 screenwriters didn’t realize was, the Agent doesn’t have a love affair with Australia, or even gets some sick “high” off thriller scripts. No. Quite opposite. She has a producer-friend, ready to go into production, who needed a thriller set in Australia, since the producer has access to top actors and locations there.
Her comment to me (she was speaking out loud) was:
“Do screenwriters really think people post “script requests” for their own amusement? Do they think we are just being vague? No! We are professionals who know what we want and need… if you don’t have it, don’t send it!”
“Preach it, sister!” That’s what I wanted to scream, but I maintained my cool and just nodded my head.
So… for the screenwriters, and there are MANY of you, who DO follow directions, what can you do to help stop this terrible epidemic?
Urge your fellow writers to follow instructions. If they aren’t sure of protocol, take time out of your day to enlighten them.
If they understand protocol, and still deem it unimportant, express the negativity this has on ALL screenwriters – including themselves.
If you run a popular blog, screenwriting site, facebook/twitter/LI group, or even teach a screenwriting course…. drill this (in a friendly but stern way) into their heads.
I saw a LinkedIn feed that blew up last year (the group was designed for producers and screenwriters) where a producer posted a video of their newly-released trailer and asked screenwriters for their thoughts – story-wise.
The first 3 comments were screenwriters pitching their shorts and features to this “producer”. After that, screenwriters weren’t even reading the original post, they just saw screenwriting “submissions” and started submitting their own scripts. They even put their phone #’s, emails, etc. One screenwriter actually wrote, “Before I tell you my story idea, can you tell us where you work and any credits you may have?
The producer removed the link and himself from the group.
Clearly the producer was NOT looking for a screenplay. But let’s say down the road he does. Do you think he’s going to post it on that group, or even LinkedIn? Do you think he will post it publicly at all? Or, like many other producers these days, he will only accept submissions from an accredited agent?
I do my best to maintain an element of professionalism on public groups and forums. Not so much because I’m a “screenwriter”, but because I run Screenwriting Staffing. But I kick myself for not interjecting on that LI feed and saying…
This is WHY no one takes us serious… right here!”
I figured there would be a lot of backlash, so I didn’t do it.
But that’s going to change.
And I encourage all of you to do the same. I loathe social network trolls and those who ignite arguments out of boredom and self-pity. But there is nothing wrong with holding our screenwriting brothers and sisters accountable.
If we do NOT, we are going to see the end of screenwriting – which is going to put me, you, and our friends out of work.
And the sad part is, it’s not that we don’t have good material, it’s that we DO, but we do NOT know how to SUBMIT material properly.
Does Hollywood value screenwriters anymore?
According to Peter Bart, a top editor for Variety, they DON’T:
Just one person’s candid opinion.
(Jacob N. Stuart is an award-winning and represented screenwriter, with OVER 10 scripts produced to screen. He is the Founder of Screenwriting Staffing, a Screenplay Judge for Universal Multicultural Film Festival, and the Screenplay Contest Director at the Cincinnati Film Festival. He holds a degree from The Los Angeles Film School, with a concentration in Screenwriting)
You can FOLLOW Jacob @ https://twitter.com/jacobnstuart
You can Follow Screenwriting Staffing @ https://twitter.com/ScreenwritingSU