Caveat emptor, baby

Step right up, friends! Have I got a deal for you!

Step right up, friends! Have I got a deal for you!

I knew going into this round of sending out query letters that my chances of success were slim at best (which could also be said about trying to establish a career in screenwriting in general).

No big results to report so far, but there’s been a very interesting development. One that all writers should pay attention to.

I’d sent the query out, and a few hours later received this email (details deleted so as to ensure privacy)

“Dear Paul,

My friend and business associate XX (the manager) forwarded to me your query (SCRIPT TITLE) in case you might be interested in my consulting service (website).  XX and I worked together (I as a studio executive at XX, XX as the producer) on the film XX, starring XX.  My service offers you my experience having worked with countless writers during my 35 years as a studio executive.  Here’s what I do:  I analyze what you have written – in this case your screenplay – from a creative standpoint to start with, and if I feel its quality and potential are apparent and strong, I will try to attract for you an agent or manager.  I will also develop a strategy to sell your work and will offer it to producers, a director or cast in order to position the material for acquisition by a financing entity such as a studio.  My fee for this is modest by industry standards, and it will depend on how much time I judge it will take to do my job.
Please let me know if this triggers any interest on your part.
Sincerely,
XX”

Trigger interest it does, but probably not how you intended.

There’s a lot in here that just feels…awkward, and maybe a little predatory?

-“I analyze what you have written from a creative standpoint“. Checking out this person’s IMDB page, not counting some current in-development TV work, their last credit was in 1998, and the rest were in the early 80s. Checking the website, their bio touts some high-profile work, including being a member of the Academy’s judging committee and “a high level evaluator of screenplays” for one of the top-tier contests. Giving them the benefit of the doubt on this one.

-“and if I feel its quality and potential are apparent and strong“. With opinions about scripts being so extremely subjective, this person could like something that nobody else does, and vice versa. And if the script still needs work, the website claims they’ll “assist in giving you creative direction.” I can kind of accept that.

-“I will try to attract for you an agent or manager.” Which is how this whole thing started. Is there any chance it might be the manager I originally sent to? Also note they will “try”, so it’s not guaranteed.

-“I will also develop a strategy to sell your work and will offer it to producers, a director or cast in order to position the material for acquisition by a financing entity such as a studio.” So…you’d put a package together? I’m still learning the business aspects, but this sounds like what an agent would do, which makes me wonder if you get a percentage. This comes across as very pie-in-the-sky, make-your-dreams-come-true.

I also noticed that all the testimonials on the website are all raves about this person’s help with each person’s script, but not one mention of anything beyond that. Nothing about somebody getting representation, selling a script, getting their script to the studio level, or being produced as a result of working with them. It would be nice to see something that goes beyond the script consulting phase.

-“My fee for this is modest by industry standards, and it will depend on how much time I judge it will take to do my job.” Since I’m not familiar with this aspect of the industry, what exactly does ‘modest’ mean? A few hundred? A thousand? No matter how much, it doesn’t sound cheap. Prices are only available via email. And what about this whole “depends on how much time I judge” part? What if it takes longer than expected? Doesn’t it always? Do I have to keep paying if nothing’s happening? And what if the whole thing falls through in the end?

For all I know, this person is totally legitimate and could be exactly what some writer out there needs. But to me, it just feels weird. You shouldn’t be paying for career help anyway. If your material’s good enough, they’ll find you and be willing to help.

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