Screenwriting Agents Do Not Have Time To Read Your Script

Somewhere in the world someone has just finished the first draft of her first screenplay – ever.

Full of enthusiasm, the unknown screenwriter breaks out a hammer and puts the final touches on the two brass brads that hold the 90-120 pages together. It is at this point when this writer asks himself the obvious question:

“How do I get my movie script produced?”

This is the point when things get confusing. Should the unknown screenwriter send his screenplay to contests, to screenwriting agents, to the family friend attorney who is willing to pose as the “entertainment attorney” and hopefully shepherd the script through the guarded gates of Hollywood?

Or should the first time screenwriter decide instead to send the work to producers? And what if somebody steals the idea? And why don’t producers accept unsolicited screenplays? UGH!

Screenwriting Agents

Screenwriting agents

One of the reasons I am excited you’re reading these words is because I can help you avoid my early mistakes. What I just described was me a decade ago.

I was still living in Pennsylvania. I had just finished the first draft of my first screenplay.  And frankly, I thought I was brilliant. I thought my story was awesome. And I actually thought Hollywood would just knock down my door. Of course it didn’t happen like that.

After I wrote my script, email was the new thing. So I started sending email query letters to various production companies and screenwriting agents. And surprisingly, a few folks did respond to me. But after I sent out my script, it wasn’t long until I either got a rejection letter or heard nothing.

Back then, I still had a lot to learn. . .

“Would you like me to tell you the secrets of getting your work produced?”

I don’t have all the secrets.

The truth is, if you have an amazing script that is totally polished, marketed towards your intended audience of producer types (or screenwriting agents) who have a history of producing your type of work – and you have a way of accessing them and getting your brilliant work read, then your success is (a little more) probable.

But for the rest of us, taking that route is an eroded path and (in my humble opinion) requires that you ask too many people for permission. I mean, doesn’t it make you feel a little whorish to ask so many people for validation?

“Please read my screenplay, it’s great!”

UGH. I hate asking for permission.

And screenwriting agents? Forget that route. At least right now. Yes, you can send out query letters and market the heck out of yourself. But if you’re an unknown screenwriter living outside of LA, the odds of getting your work read by legitimate screenwriting agents are slim to none.

Remember, screenwriting agents make a living getting material sold. And chances are, those folks already have a dozen clients. They don’t have time to take notice of your material unless your work already has buzz.

So how do you break through?

Here are some screenwriting tips… But I don’t think you’ll like them.

  1. Quit asking permission. Production is less expensive. Start producing.
  2. Start with genres that sell. Horror. Women in peril. Girl with a horse story.
  3. Relationships are everything. Not in LA? Then attend major film festivals.
  4. There are contests. Most suck. Some are good. At lease you get read.
  5. Cold call filmmakers. You will be surprised how accessible they are.

If you start thinking and acting like an entrepreneurial screenwriter, you will be amazed how many people will start to take you seriously. Of course, a large majority of screenwriters will think these ideas are bonkers. And if you think I’m bonkers, then please ignore me and keep writing query letters to screenwriting agents.

But if you’re willing to go the distance, then do whatever it takes to get your work on the screen. If this means you grab a camera and make a dozen, 2 minute movies for YouTube – At least you’re doing something. And in my very humble opinion, it is far more valuable to get small projects produced than to put your work in a dark drawer, only to never be seen.

If you’d like more information on getting your screenplay finished, check out the Indie Producer’s Guide To Writing Movie Scrips that Sell.

Independent Contractor Or Employee

Independent Contractor Or Employee
By Entertainment Attorney Gordon Firemark
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Please note. The following entertainment business article is from a guest filmmaker blogger. This is general information and not legal advice. Speak to a qualified professional before making any legal, tax or other business decision.

Over the past few months, I have had several conversations with clients about whether the folks they hire to work on their films and theatre projects are properly classified as employees or independent contractors. It’s an important distinction, and one that can have costly consequences if not handled properly.

New Law imposes strict penalties for misclassifying employees as independent contractors.

On January 1 of 2012, California’s law changed to create significant penalties for employers who willfully misclassify workers, and fail to withhold taxes, pay into the Worker Compensation system, etc.

In the entertainment industries, this misclassification is prevalent. Producers who wish to avoid the hassle, and/or the cost of a payroll company, or of paying minimum wage, overtime, or complying with other wage and hour laws often prefer to treat their workers as independent contracctors. But the Federal government, mainly through the IRS, has in recent years has been taking this situation seriously, and aggressively pursuing violators.

California joins the cause

Now, California has taken similar measures. Now, under the new law, which doesn’t change the criteria, but only the consequences, penalties range from $5,000 to $15,000 per violation for isolated violations, and where a pattern or practice of violation exists, as much as $25,000 per violation.

How to classify your workers

Particularly in entertainment, workers may look sometimes like employees and sometimes like contractors. It’s often difficult to determine which classification to use.

The IRS view is that most crew members, actors, and others working on a film production should be classified as employees, not independent contractors, and that taxes should thus be withheld.

Where a loan-out company is involved, it, rather than the producer, is the employee, so no withholding is required of the producer. Also, if the person is being hired not just for his or her services, but also brings equipment, supplies, or intellectual property rights to the party, then the relationship can probably be characterized as one of an independent contractor. But, merely declaring in a contract that the parties are independent contractors will do little to persuade the authorities that this is in fact the case.

the “Control” test

To determine whether a worker is an independent contractor, the law uses a so-called “control” test. This test looks at a number of factors to evaluate whether an employer has the right to exert control over the manner and means by which the worker performs his or her services.

Factors considered in determining employee vs. independent contractor status

Under the “control test”, we must look at the specific facts in each case and then look at a series of factors and economic realities. Specifically, the Courts will look at:

  1. Whether the person performing services is engaged in an occupation or business distinct from that of the principal;
  2. Whether or not the work is a part of the regular business of the principal;
  3. Whether the principal or the worker supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place for the person doing the work;
  4. The alleged employee’s investment in the equipment or materials required by his task;
  5. The skill required in the particular occupation;
  6. The kind of occupation, with reference to whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of the principal or by a specialist without supervision;
  7. The alleged employee’s opportunity for profit or loss depending on his managerial skill;
  8. The length of time for which the services are to be performed;
  9. The degree of permanence of the working relationship;
  10. The method of payment, whether by time or by the job;
  11. Whether or not the parties believe they are creating an employer-employee relationship.

In applying this analysis, the burden of proof is on the employer. Absent evidence sufficient to prove an independent contractor relationship, the presumption is that the worker is an employee.

Conclusion

Producers beware. Failure to classify an employee properly can prove costly, so if you have any doubt, contact an attorney and ask.

– – –
Gordon Firemark began his career working behind the scenes in film, television and theatre. Since finishing law school, that’s still what he does.

As an attorney whose practice is devoted to the representation of clients in film, television,and theatre, he helps producers, directors, writers, actors and other industry professionals make deals that make sense, and that get their productions developed, financed, produced and distributed.

How NOT To Get Your Screenplay Read

Get Your Screenplay Read

Get Your Screenplay Read. Image via Wikipedia

A few years back I finished the first draft of my first screenplay ever. Like a lot of folks who dream of Hollywood success, I was eager to share my work with the world. Problem was, I had no idea what I was doing.

Through a friend of a friend, I was put in contact with an “entertainment attorney.” I put the words in quotes because while there are tons of people with a strong work ethic and great integrity, this particular guy was not one of them.

I remember getting off the phone. I was super excited because this guy had agreed to read my screenplay and offer me feedback. So like most writers, I sent off my screenplay – packaged with the appropriate cardstock cover and two brass brads… And a few weeks later I get a email:

“Jason. Thanks for sending me your screenplay. I read it. Because you want to produce your own movie, I think you will need a lawyer who understands how to put together a private placement memorandum. And also, while we did not talk about this prior, you owe me $250 dollars for the hour I spent reading your script. Please send me a check ASAP.”

These days I would tell him to go “F” himself. But back then, I had no idea what I was doing. So I sent him his money. And to make it even worse, $250 dollars represented an entire week’s salary.

The whole point of this is – if someone agrees to do you a “favor,” it’s best to get reciprocal expectations in writing.