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.


Progress, 2-3 pages at a time

January 27, 2017
fingers

The great tallying of how many pages were written today

Part of this whole thing of getting stuff done, writing-wise, is exactly that.

You need to get your ass in that chair and write. Repeat on a daily basis as long as necessary.

While I may not get to write every day, I certainly do try. So far, the target output of 2-3 pages when I can is holding strong.

For those following me on various social media, you might occasionally see an announcement (read: tweet) proclaiming that day’s results. I’m proud of what I accomplish in each writing session, even if it’s only two pages. Progress is progress.

(Incidentally, I also enjoy seeing others make similar announcements. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn.)

Every once in a while, someone will comment about how productive I am, or marvel at my steady output of pages. As if I’m some sort of writing machine.

Well, yes and no.

Yes in that I do try to write every day, but only because I like it, and, more importantly, it’s the only way to do it. This thing ain’t gonna write itself. And the more you write, the better you’ll get at it.

Even at the slow pace of 2-3 pages a day, the numbers add up and you can have a completed draft in a relatively short time.

And no because sometimes there are days where circumstances simply prevent me from having time to write. It happens. Life gets in the way and all that. Admittedly, I don’t care very much for those days.

It used to be that sometimes I’d read about someone who had significantly higher results than me (e.g. “Another 15 pages today!”), and feel all “How am I supposed to compete with that?”

Turns out I’m not. The only connection between me and that other writer is just that – we’re both writers. They have their way of doing it, and I’ve got mine. Do I wish I could be that productive? Of course. Does it mean I’m not as good a writer as they are? Hell no.

I write when I can. Maybe that means a little, a lot, or maybe not at all. But it’s the way I do it, and I don’t care how it compares to anyone else. It works for me, and that’s the important thing.


Tire, meet nail

January 10, 2017
flat-tire

You don’t expect it, but it’s good to prepared for when it happens

There I was, happily churning out pages for the pulpy adventure spec. The daily output was respectably above average.

(Gotta say, this new practice of writing out/establishing the beats of each scene has proven invaluable.)

If I could maintain this kind of pace, dare I even contemplate the possibility of having a completed draft, if not by month’s end, then maybe by mid-February?

But like the man who operates the guillotine might say, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Story-wise, things are still pretty solid, save for a previously unforeseen wrinkle: I need to do some emergency revision regarding exactly where and how a supporting character is introduced.

What was in the outline is completely different from what ended up on the page, so looks like I’ve given myself a few options:

  1. Leave it as is, but come up with how to tie everything together. A few possible solutions here. Not crazy about it.
  2. Go back and rewrite so it plays out as originally planned. It may lack some of the punch I was hoping to start with, but that sequence already has a significant amount of “attention-grabbing oomph” to begin with.

Some alternate approaches are currently under consideration, as are those of a drastically different nature. It’s also being discovered that implementing some of these changes could actually assist in reducing the number of pages, which was going to happen anyway. Only now it would be sooner. Not a bad result.

No matter which I choose, there’s some serious editing and rewriting in my immediate future.

This whole scenario definitely falls under the “kill your darlings” category because even though I really like what I’ve already written, as we all know, fixing the story takes precedence over placating the writer’s ego.

Keeping with the metaphor of this post’s title, what initially felt like a major problem is, after some careful analysis, evaluation, and plain old level-headedness, slowly developing into more of a bump in the road.

 


You don’t know me, but can you help me?

November 22, 2016
the-stranger

Let’s not complicate things with petty details like who I am

So this email arrived yesterday.

“Hi, Paul, Do you know any past or current Executive Producers that might be eager to engage in a new multi-billion dollar franchise that could be as good as “Harry Potter” or “Star Wars”?”

Immediate smartass answer: Well, of course I do, person-I’ve-never-communicated-with-before! I like the cut of your jib, especially with that totally unsolicited request for help! I’ll pass your info along straightaway! Even though I think smoking is a totally unhealthy thing, I’m going to learn how just to be able to literally light cigars with hundred-dollar bills which I’ll be grabbing out of the huge bags o’cash which will no doubt be continuously rolling in once Hollywood gets its mitts on this!

Secondary upon-reflection answer: Do you really think this is the best approach?

Sure, we’ve been connected on a networking site for several years, but as far as I can recall, have had absolutely no interaction during that time. No emails. No comments on a post. Not even a single “Hey, how’s it going?” And then, totally out of the blue, you come to me and ask for help.

I’m more than happy to help somebody out when I can, but it has to be somebody I know, somebody I’ve communicated with, and somebody I think is worth helping. Apart from this nebulous “connection” we have, to me you’re little more than a total stranger.

And you’re not asking for just any kind of help. You have what you proclaim to be “the next big thing”. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard or read that about a script/story/idea, I’d be able to fund my own franchise.

It’s great that you have a high opinion of your material, as you should, but keep in mind you might be the only one who does. You can prognosticate all you want, but that’s not going to impact anything. You can’t say something’s going to be a hit because you want it to be.

I’m still a little fuzzy on the details, but I think the title “Executive Producer” depends on the extent of that person’s involvement with the project. Until then, I believe “producer” is the appropriate title. Feel free to enlighten the rest of us in the comment section.

Let’s also discuss the fact that you sent this to me. Me. Why? I’m not exactly Mr Industry Insider. In fact, I’m more likely in the same boat as you; a nobody busting his ass trying to establish a career. Did you know that? Did you do any research, or are you just sending this to as many people as possible, hoping one of them works out?

I never responded to the email in question, simply because I don’t think it’s worth it. I suspect anything short of “Here are those names you asked for” would not be welcome, let alone “This is a really unprofessional email, and here’s why”. As always, I wish them the best of luck.

I’ll admit I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years, but each one has been a learning experience unto itself. I’ve learned how to network, how to communicate, and how to interact. I know how to seek out help and how to offer it. I’m a firm believer in researching and finding out everything I can about whatever it is I’m working on.

I always strive to be as professional as I can when it comes to this sort of thing. Everybody’s a potential future partner/connection/resource, but I don’t take it for granted.

I’ll treat you with respect provided you do the same.


Could it get made today?

October 14, 2016
psycho-house

“Another “boy and his mother” story? Pass.”

Originally, this post was going to be about the multiple changing of protagonists in PSYCHO (which is another great potential future topic), but the more I read about the film and thought about the impact it’s had since being released way back in 1960, it triggered a totally different train of thought.

Every once in a while, when a classic film is brought up in some context or another, the phrase “That could never get made today” will get thrown in. After the recent death of Gene Wilder, his talent was lauded via the mention of several of his most well-known roles. Willy Wonka. The Waco Kid. Victor Frankenstein (“That’s Fronken-steen.”). His performances were vital parts of each film, which no doubt contributed to making them “classics”.

But, as always, it starts with the script. (Incidentally, I don’t think Wilder gets enough credit for co-writing YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.)

Examining the stories being told, each one has something truly unique about it, and then some. The writer (and subsequently the filmmaker) wasn’t afraid to take a chance and try something completely new and different. Sadly, the studios today aren’t as open to it. Better to play it safe then take too big a chance, which is why we’re seeing so many remakes and re-imaginings. Of course, that doesn’t always work out either (e.g. 2015’s PAN, the recent BEN-HUR remake).

While there are always original and innovative scripts floating around, it’s a lot of time, effort and money to make a film. The only recent original film I can think of is SWISS ARMY MAN, which I admit I haven’t seen yet.

Who hasn’t read a “truly original” script or about one getting a lot of attention, but a lot of the time the writer will go on to work on other projects while the script that started the whole thing gathers dust?

The best exception to this that I know of is Travis Beacham’s spec A KILLING ON CARNIVAL ROW, which drew a lot of heat when it sold in 2005, then continued to garner praise while it languished in development for years before ultimately becoming an upcoming series on Amazon – at last check, anyway.

Budgets are getting higher, and the gap continues to grow between microbudget features and mega-budget tentpoles. It’s getting harder for original material to get noticed, let alone something that screams out “NEW!” It also doesn’t help that the chances decrease if the script isn’t based on pre-existing material. This could be why today you’re more likely to see an original film that’s a low-budget independent, probably written by the filmmaker themselves.

Before that, your best bet of seeing something groundbreaking would have been at the hands of established filmmakers, only because they had that kind of leverage (and the budget) to get their projects made. An unknown writer doesn’t have that kind of luxury. All we can hope for is to connect with somebody who likes the script (and our writing) so much that they’re actually excited to help us take things beyond the “Sure, I’ll read it” stage.

That’s our objective as writers: to write something that’s not only compelling and involving, but so eye-openingly original that the reader is compelled to the point that they need to see this as a movie. Doable, but definitely not easy.

Homework time! Part one – find a script you really consider a game-changer for the same genre as yours and give it a read. Can you identify what made it so unique? What really stands out for you? Plot? Story? Characters? A little of everything? Another option is if that script has been produced, then watch the film and follow along with the script. Are they the same? Totally different? Do you think the changes add or take away from the script?

Part two – without blatantly copying the style of that script, work on applying a similar originality to yours. Did reading that script inspire ways for you to make yours really stand out?

Don’t be afraid to take chances. Strive to offer up something we’ve never seen before. The results might surprise you, too.

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