Q&A w/Phillip Hardy about Hosting vs DIY

March 17, 2017

Phil Hardy

Phillip E. Hardy is a four-time optioned screenwriter who also runs The Script Gymnasium script consultancy. His work has recently been presented to Jay Roach, William Morris Endeavor, Tyler Perry Productions and A&E Network. He has placed and won at 45 film festivals and contests including Page International, Austin Film Festival, Cannes Screenplay, Shore Scripts, Screencraft, Beverly Hills Film Festival and Sunscreen Film Festival.

Today’s post stems from a discussion between Phillip and myself regarding the benefits and drawbacks of posting your script on a hosting site or taking a more proactive role and doing the work yourself.

You’ve had some experience with both handling your own material and hosting sites. Do you find one to be more effective than the other, or is it more of a case-by-case basis?

I’ve had varying degrees of success with different hosting sites. But it’s a total crapshoot, especially with paid hosting and pitching sites. One of my colleagues swears by Virtual Pitchfest (VPF). And, at 10 bucks a pop for a pitch, they look attractive to writers on a budget.  I’ve done ten pitches at VPF and though I received some very good feedback on one of my period piece dramas, nobody at that website has requested a script read.

When I first started out, I used Project Greenlight (PG), which was expensive and the responses I received were very sloppy and unprofessional. I did get one read request from a video game company. But I would never use PG again. I know of nobody who has scored with them.

Don’t ask me about the Black List. Okay, I’ll tell you. I hate them and everything they stand for. However, if you wish to pay their reviewers (frustrated writers with their own axe to grind) seventy five dollars a pop to review your script, then that’s the site for you.

International Screenwriter’s Association is fairly inexpensive for a premium listing. However, anyone that uses them can call themselves a producer or director. I’ve made several connections there but they led me nowhere and have netted no financial remuneration.

I’ve also hooked up with a few folks on Craigslist (CL), which can be a real pain and you have to answer a lot of adds to get any action. One of the best connections I made on CL was with one of the stars of the TNT show “Falling Skies”. So you never know who you’re talking to but you should vet them out before sending them your scripts.

I’ve had my best luck at Inktip, which allows you to list a script for four months at a price of sixty dollars for four months. Producers at Inkitp shop loglines and will read your summary or request a script read if they’re interested in your spec material. For example, I had multiple logline reads today and two of them read the synopsis as well. However, a lot of Inktip clients troll loglines and do little else. I’ve had a number of script downloads, which have also netted zippo. However, the Inktip Newsletter has been much more effective for me. The price is the same as the listing. The difference is you can pitch producers looking for specific genres and concepts. I’ve also written pitches for these clients, which led to a script option and three right-to-shop agreements with a producer that got my work into the hands of some big time production companies and cable networks. I’ve also bullshitted people and told them I had scripts I hadn’t written yet. And then banged them out in a week. This method is not for the faint of heart.

I’m sure most writers know that Amazon Studios has an open door policy about submitting television and feature screenplays. Unfortunately, that door leads to oblivion. And if you can locate one unproduced writer that has something produced by Amazon, I’ll buy you lunch at my local Sonic drive-thru. Several months back, I did some research on this and could find no unproduced writers who have made it out of development purgatory. And by unproduced, I mean you’ve never had a big budget movie made from one of your screenplays.

Lastly, I’ve used Stage 32 for paid pitch sessions and gotten script requests from four major players including Ridley Scott Productions and Good Fear Management. But if you do a written pitch, you better make sure your logline is catchy, your synopsis is clear and concise and you include the character arc for your protagonist.

The bottom line is use any means possible to get your work into the hands of people you are looking to make movies.

If you’re going the DIY route, what methods have worked for you?

Smack-talkin’, bold action has worked best for me. I hooked up with several producers looking for projects by telling them I had scripts already written about things they were looking for, including a story about Michael Rockefeller, who disappeared in the Papuan Islands more than fifty years ago. In this particular instance, the producer was advertising and I wrote a logline and synopsis in three hours and pitched it to the guy. He optioned the screenplay I wrote in six days.

In another instance, I did the same thing with another producer looking for an Angela Davis screenplay. However, when the producer asked me if I had a script, I said “sure, it’s sitting on the shelf with my screenplays about Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver.” He got the joke and we wound up working together on several different projects. The DIY Method should include whoring your wares at any given moment and making as many connections as you can. Also, make friends with writers like Paul Zeidman.

Never heard of him. Keeping that theme going, what do you recommend when it comes to using hosting sites?

Passive hosting sites where you don’t aggressively work the leads may be a waste of time. Just listing a script without supporting efforts offers little chance for anything happening to further your career.

What’s your opinion of hosting sites overall?

If you’re not living in Hollywood and getting meetings with producers, hosting sites, along with promoting yourself vigorously and IMHO, competing in film festivals and script contests to relentlessly build your brand, can be a very useful tool to get you access to producers and agents. As a direct result of hosting sites, I’ve had material read by A & E, History Channel, Emmett Furla, William Morris Endeavor, Jay Roach, Tyler Perry Productions, Ridley Scott Productions, Zero Gravity, Good Fear Management, Zane W. Levitt and many others.

After putting your script on a hosting site, what should you NOT do?

Don’t nag the contacts you make. Don’t be a pain in the ass if someone’s interested in your work.

As an experienced writer, what tips would you like to pass along?

-If you’re a delicate, sensitive woodland creature, then scriptwriting isn’t for you.

-Learn to suck up constant rejection. Never spend more than a few hours wallowing in rejection or failure. Remember, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. With each setback, learn how to sally forth with renewed vigor.

-The best cure for rejection is writing; particularly if it’s better writing.

-Sometimes a script just sucks. Everyone thinks they have a great idea for a script. More often than not, they’re wrong. Sometimes a script just sucks, no matter how many times you rewrite it. Therefore, don’t attach yourself to any one effort too much. It may take writing fifty scripts before you find something that really resonates with readers.

-If you see writing scripts as a path to riches and fame, you may wish to consider other options.

-There ain’t no such thing as writers block. There are only writers that write and ones that don’t. Look at Bukowski. Drunk or sober, he did great work every day of his life.

-Writers who build relationships, maintain their humility and help their colleagues will do better than ones who don’t.

-If you keep losing script contests, then write better scripts until you win one.

-Read books, take classes, seminars, and good advice about scriptwriting and then march to your own creative drummer. If I listened to every asshole who told me I couldn’t do something, I’d never accomplish anything.

What are some absolute “Do NOTs”?

-Don’t tell anyone “this is my first script”. But don’t think you’ll set the world on fire by writing one script.

-Don’t write something because you think it will have commercial appeal. Write something you believe in.

-Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Endeavor to be an original.

-Don’t ever rest on your laurels. Keep writing until it becomes second nature AND you can produce even under the most adverse or stressful conditions. You may one day have a job that presents you with just that set of conditions.


Hard-workin’ guy

July 14, 2011

Real quick script update: Got to page 3. Like what I have so far. Nice feedback from fellow writer/other remaining member of previous writing group.  I really need to relax and have fun while I write; helps make it an easier experience.

I can officially add a new work thing to my resume: on-camera personality.

There was a listing on craigslist around the end of May looking for screenwriters.  I applied and got an offer to come in for an interview.

Turns out it had nothing to do with screenwriting whatsoever.  They’re a small startup looking to provide short narrated videos; such potential subjects are Top 5 lists, real estate listings, the SPCA and so on.  The writing would be putting together the scripts; about 10-20 a week. A lot of work for not much pay, but I didn’t mind.

I had asked about the narration and was asked if I wanted to audition.  Sure; why not?  It could have gone better – I was faster than the teleprompter, but kept a good attitude.

Two weeks pass and I hear nothing.  Ah well. Back to combing the internets. Then I get an email congratulating me on being selected as one of their on-camera narrators!

Boy, they must have thought my writing really sucked.

A date to film some samples was arranged.  I ride out to the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. One I had heard of, but never been to.

Their studio is a converted basement in a house. Very low-tech, but work is work.

It takes me a while to get used to the iPad-based teleprompter, but it goes well.  I also learn that this is considered my second audition, and that the writing has been put on hold for now.

After that first day, I hadn’t heard anything from them for almost two weeks. I dash off a quick-yet-tactful email asking what’s going on, but hear nothing.

Is it over before it began?

Yesterday, I get an email saying my payment for the previous session had gone through. Literally five minutes later, the producer calls, asking if I’m available to come in today for another session. You bet!

I wasn’t n my A-game today. Lots of flubs, but easily corrected.

When it’s a wrap, I ask if I passed the latest round of auditions.  Most definitely is the response.  I also learn that one of my writing samples is the highest-viewed video for their YouTube channel.  (I offer no explanation for the guy reading it) My on-camera one – okay, but there’s me in all my dorkiness.

But that’s okay.  This is occasional, semi-steady work that can only yield positive results.

-Movie of the Moment – finished IP MAN. Loved it. Phenomenal martial arts sequences, complete with several jaw-dropping moments.  Slightly more inclined to watch the sequel.

-Regarding Netflix price gouge/increase. Understandable, but 60 percent?  Couldn’t 20 or 25 worked?  We’re opting for the 1-disk/streaming combo. I suspect we’ll be watching a lot more on streaming in the coming months.


Rant

January 29, 2011

I was lucky enough to get a gig last summer writing a short for a film student’s final project. I made a whole $20 on it, and the final result should be ready in a few weeks.

A few months ago, I got an unpaid gig helping a newbie writer put his short script together. I haven’t heard from him since, so I don’t know how it worked out.

Another writer was looking for help with a script based on his outline. I didn’t get that one only because another writer was willing to work for free. But the original writer was very nice about it.

Lastly, I came really close to writing a Bollywood-type script for a first-time director, but there was some miscommunication regarding compensation. That, and she provided 3 characters and 2 plot points and expected a 120-page script in return.

All of these came from craigslist. Every once in a while, I’ll check the latest listings, looking for something worth my while.

This is where the rant begins.

It seems that there are people out there with incredibly unrealistic expectations. One guy, fresh out of film school, admitted he knew practically nothing about writing; he had focused more on producing. He had a script but would only accept a professional writer to critique it.  For $80.  I don’t know if he got any offers.

Another guy was looking for a collaborator on a script. He had the idea, but wanted help with the writing. We set up a time to meet. And he never showed. Phone calls and emails to him went unanswered for days. When I finally heard back from him, he said he had been called away on business for his day job. He also said he’d get back to me to set up another meeting.

I’m still waiting.

It kills me that there are people out there who think screenwriting is something anybody can do. It’s not. It’s a long, laborious process that requires constant work. Like they say, “if it were easy, everybody would do it.”

One saving grace is some anonymous poster who responds to some of these listings with a similar attitude. Whoever this person is, they really rip into the listing with such gusto. Sort of a whack upside the head while saying “Pay attention!  Here’s how it really works!”

They’re usually very entertaining. At least for me.

I’ll probably keep checking the listings because there may be a perfect match every once in a while. It’s good experience, maybe worth a little cash, and it expands my credits.

Besides, it could lead to bigger and better things. Which is really what it’s all about, anyway.

Anybody have similar experiences or is it just me?


So much for that

October 6, 2010

The Bollywood project is now officially kaput.

I bear no malice towards the person who originally posted the listing, but I seriously question their thought process.

I’m not sure if they thought it was about the money, which it really wasn’t.

To me, the big problem was that this person wanted somebody to write a first draft, which they (them, not me) would then rewrite several times until it met with their approval.

Well, if that’s your plan, why not just write it yourself?  Wouldn’t that be easier?

I also had a big problem with this whole story thing.  All you’re working off of was a dinky one-paragraph description of the story, which is supposed to be changed into a 120-page/2-hour script.  Given time to develop a story, I suppose it’s possible, but it would really help if the writer knew something about Bollywood stories.

Which I don’t.

Which is why I kept asking for more of an outline, as well as the opportunity to meet with this person and find out exactly what was expected of me/the writer.

Neither happened.

I can’t help but wonder how similar this could be to what happens in H’wood.  Except there you at least have a better understanding of genres, so piecing a story together wouldn’t seem so…insurmountable.

I wrote back saying I didn’t think I was a good fit for this, wished them luck and signed off.

So of course, this morning I’m checking out craigslist, and lo and behold, there’s the listing again!

120 pages in English, screen credit only.  But it was posted 15 minutes BEFORE I sent my ‘resignation’ email.  Hmmm.

Surprisingly, somebody responded to it on the listings page saying what a bullshit offer this was, and that screen credit was basically worthless.  Pretty harsh, but I’m inclined to agree.

Later this morning, the listing changed to offer a $300 payment, which the angry responder says doesn’t change anything.  They even threatened to keep trash-talking the poster.

I’m tempted to post something explaining some of the story behind all of this, but don’t know if I would come across as trying to get some kind of revenge, which I’m really not.

I understand what this person wants, but don’t understand why they can’t do it themselves.  If they have a story and are familiar with what’s expected in it, why look for outside help?

I’m also thinking I should take this opportunity to step back from responding to every comparable writing gig that pops up and restart working on my own stuff.

That would probably be a good idea.

I even toyed with jumping back into BABY LIKES JAZZ, spitting out a first draft and seeing what happens.

Could be fun.


Progress?

September 28, 2010

So I signed an agreement with this guy at a local small college who’s taking a film class.  To sum it up, I’ve got my work cut out for me.

To say this is going to be an uphill battle is putting it mildly.  There are so many things he needs to learn.  And this is just after an initial glance at his pages.

Oy.

And it appears that I may have the Bollywood gig after all.  The person is slow in responding to emails, but seems interested in working with me. Today they asked about meeting later in the week, and I said when I was available.  I’ve yet to hear back.  We’ll see how this works out.

So getting back to the title of this post…

On one hand, it’s fantastic that I’m working so much on script-based stuff.  It’s like I’m getting the experience I need to move ahead, career-wise.

But on the other hand, I’ve been quite lax about getting my own stuff done.  I don’t like that.  But the whole keeping busy thing kind of offsets it.

I know I’ll get my own stuff done, but doing all this other work feels necessary.

There’s also that little fantasy about the people I’m working with spreading word about me, which eventually leads to real screenwriting work.  This will be staying in the realm of fantasy for the time being.

And since I’m on the subject of writing gigs, I’m a little surprised but also not surprised that some of the others have yet to respond.  The webseries, for example.  I suppose I consider it just common courtesy to at least write back to people saying “job’s filled,” rather than just leaving it open-ended.

Then again, this is craigslist, which is not exactly a shining example of reliabiity and trustworthiness.

But for now, I’ll take what I can get and build from there.

Good things are coming.  And I’m going to be ready.

No Movie of the Moment tonight, but I did watch BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD earlier today.  It was good, even with Judd Winick writing it.  Different voices for all the characters, and some pretty good animation.  I gotta admit, there were some cool fanboy moments in it.  The next one – BATMAN/SUPERMAN: APOCALYPSE looks pretty cool.  That came out today, but I’ll probably see it in a month or two.

I can’t remember if I mentioned it, but last week I watched YOO-HOO MRS. GOLDBERG, a documentary about Gertrude Berg, the true first woman of radio and TV.  That was really good.


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