Archive for October 2012

Paid Coverage Services: Yay or Nay?

October 23, 2012

As an experiment, I bit the bullet and paid for coverage by two script analysts that were highly recommended on the Done Deal message boards. The clincher for me was a thread started by a pro screenwriter with a long list of produced TV and movie credits. He wrote that he was skeptical of paid coverage services — and contests — that have cashed in on the aspiring screenwriters market.

So he submitted a new script to ScriptGal, a.k.a. Amanda Nelligan, and was impressed with her notes enough to publicly endorse her. He felt she identified weaknesses in his draft and gave him some good suggestions as to how to fix the problems. She even offered to put him in touch with agents/managers if he wasn’t already repped, without knowing he was an established writer backed by a big agency.

The last bit is what hooked me. Sure, it’s helpful to get constructive criticism and advice on how to punch up your script. But what good is it, unless you can get your work to actual reps and producers? To me, that’s the real value of working with a consultant. If they are being straight up with you and dig your stuff, then there’s a chance they will share their personal contacts with you.

The other analyst I tried is the Screenplay Mechanic, whose screenwriting and producing credits can be found under the name of Andrew Hilton. It’s one thing to be a pro reader who does coverage for studios, agents or prodcos. It’s another thing to be a working screenwriter/producer with skin in the game. I also got the feeling that he might be looking for low budget projects he could develop. It wasn’t something he openly says, but my first option was a result of signing up for a University of Hawaii workshop by ROBOCOP cowriter Michael Miner — who later told me he didn’t do the workshops because he needed money. He did them because he liked sharing what he learned about writing… and he was looking for new projects to produce.

I went with Drew first for a couple of reasons. He had a reservation system set up so you knew precisely when he would be reading your stuff and getting back to you with notes. Also, he offered a nice discount to Done Deal followers. His three pages of industry-style coverage cost $85, which is very reasonable for someone with his experience.

Amanda wasn’t doing reservations when I tried her, and I guess I hit her at a busy time. Then she got sick, and long story short, it took awhile to get my notes. She does offer a Done Deal discount too, but you have to find the link for it, which isn’t on her regular pricing page. For $120, her normal full coverage cost, I got five pages of notes.

What’s interesting is both Drew and Amanda were pretty similar in their analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the script I submitted — which has done well in a number of screenwriting contests, and was close to being optioned by three different producers over the years. They both gave my Doll script (marketed as DOLL KILLER, VEIL OF DECEIT and THE DOLL) a “consider with reservations.” In the coverage system, “recommend” is the best you can do, and consider is next best. The “reservations” part they both addressed were in line with reasons I think that script has not sold, despite all the positive things they both noted in their coverage.

I chose DOLL to test their services is because I know it’s a tough sell. The antagonist is a Muslim woman. The protag is a young, aspiring actress who has had an abortion. The plot involves religious and cultural differences, and a dead baby. It’s not your basic thriller. But I also recognized it might be a good fit for a cable channel like Lifetime, or make a good indie film… and that’s really where I was hoping Drew or Amanda could help me out.

Before submitting my script, I researched Drew’s background and saw that his first sale was for a Lifetime movie. And since Amanda was a woman analyst, I thought she might respond to the storyline better because it seems women producers showed more of an interest in DOLL than male reps or producers. Women get the nuances that most men seem to miss in this script (that goes for non-industry readers too).

When Drew sent me my notes, he did concur it might be a good fit for Lifetime. But he said his contact was no longer there, or he would have put me in touch. Amanda felt DOLL is a hard sell in the current market — it’s not really what agents and producers are looking for, i.e., not “commercial” in the usual sense of the word. Yet she agreed Lifetime could be a possibility. She offered to check into contacts there for me, but I never heard back from her.

So who would I recommend? Both give good notes at reasonable prices. Drew delivers notes on the day he promises. Amanda now takes reservations too. Drew seems to have a good understanding of what Hollywood agents and producers are looking for right now, but his tastes may not fit your project. You should check out his credits and watch the movie he produced to get a feel for what he likes (although he says he’s open to all genres, every writer/reader has their preferences). If your story is more oriented toward a female audience, I’d probably lean towards Amanda for feedback. I know that sounds sexist, but hey, I’m being pragmatic. If you can afford both, I think it’s worth getting a second opinion. You can’t go wrong with either of them.

Anyhow, if you want to see the coverage, shoot me an email at richfigel@gmail.com, and I’ll send you the pdfs so you can compare for yourself.

Here’s the link to their websites:

Screenplay Mechanic

ScriptGal.com

As with all screenwriting-related services and contests, your mileage may vary. In my next post, I’ll tell you about my experiences with the new Black List pay-for-play scheme… so far, seems to be off to a bumpy start.

Pay or Play

October 8, 2012

After my last post in early September, my wife and I took a trip to Vegas for a week. Won a little money, saw two Cirque shows — a stranger handed me two free tickets to the “Mystere” show, after I had already bought prime seats for “O” at the Bellagio — and went on a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. It was a nice break from reality (speaking of which, we stayed at the Jockey Club timeshare resort next to the Cosmopolitan, where they shot the most recent Top Chef reality TV series). Every time I go to Las Vegas, I feel recharged from playing games of chance and going for the big jackpot even if I come back empty-handed. It’s the thrill of the hunt, I suppose, that keeps us coming back to the City of Lost Wages.

I’m a cautious gambler, which sounds like an oxymoron. We’ll play low stakes blackjack for $10 to $20 per hand, and try to cash out whenever we get up double what we started with — which isn’t as hard as it sounds if you abide by simple rules that experienced players call The Book. It’s just math and knowing the odds, then having the discipline to take profits before you start giving it all back to the House.

Then we’ll take our winnings and play the slots, which are higher risk/higher reward bets. But I’ve found fairly reliable ways of improving my odds of hitting jackpots in the $100 to $500 range, and had a few of those on the last trip. At one point, I got hot and hit for over $500 on three machines in a half hour span. So I felt it was time to take a crack at Megabucks, which requires playing three bucks a spin to win the top payout of millions of dollars. You can burn through a lot of money fast, unless you get lucky and hit some small pay-outs that allow you to keep playing…. and that’s what happened. My hot streak kept me going for about a half hour on Megabucks before the machine stopped paying out. No huge jackpot for me. Then my wife sat down, put in a twenty and about three spins later, hit for $300. Wisely, she cashed out instead of playing it all back into the machine as I did.

I view screenwriting in a similar vein. The odds are stacked against the writer, but there are things you can do to improve your chances. Strategy comes into play as well — go big for the Megabucks script, or shoot for smaller rewards with a low budget project that could be done outside the Hollywood system? In my case, I’ve tried both approaches and gotten nibbles. No jackpot yet though. As part of my strategy to increase my chances, I’ve recently employed paid script consultants.

Before I get to that though, one more quick story: when we got back from our Vegas trip, I had a Facebook message that totally caught me off guard. It was from a major Hollywood producer, who knew my former manager. Can’t get into the details of what transpired, other than he asked to read an old screenplay of mine — didn’t say how he got my name or heard about the script, but I think I know what the connection was. In any event, it was almost like hitting a jackpot when you least expect it — except I’m still waiting for the last slot reel to stop spinning to see if I won or not.

**********

In my next post, I’ll share my experiences with two highly-recommended script analysts, and which one I preferred!