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.


Is it that time already?

March 18, 2016
pocket watch

Land sakes. Where has the time gone?

Yes, that’s right. Because you demanded it.

Well, not really, but it has been a while.

So without further ado, time once again for the much-heralded and talked-about Project Status Update Time!

For those unfamiliar with the concept, which I would imagine is pretty clear from the name alone, this is your opportunity to give a quick mention regarding the latest on your latest project, no matter what it is.

Doesn’t have to go into too much detail. Just what you’re currently working on, and how it’s going.

Hit your page quota for today? Got to a pivotal scene or significant plot point? Finished that rewrite? Feeling stuck? Seeking the right wording for that logline?

In search of help/guidance/suggestions of any sort? All you gotta do is ask.

Did a little networking and connected with another writer? Signed a deal? Had a good meeting? Packing up the car and heading for LA?

Got something to crow about? Want to vent any pent-up frustration?

Don’t hold back. You’re among friends here.

Real quick for me. Just about done with the 2nd draft of the low-budget comedy. One sequence needs revising, followed by maybe one more quick polish, and then it’s off to some of my reliable readers.

Also have some reciprocal reading to do for some of those aforementioned readers. Quite excited about diving into these.

How about you?


I’d wager this is you/me/us

August 21, 2015
The thrills and glamor of writing a screenplay

The thrills and glamour of writing a screenplay

Wouldn’t it be great if every single time you sat down to write, you produced something just flat-out jaw-droppingly incredible?

It would also be great if you could eat an entire pie by yourself and not get sick, but that ain’t gonna happen either.

You work hard and do the best you can, and that’s all you should ask and expect of yourself.

You know what you’re capable of. You set goals, and make the effort to accomplish them. You push yourself to keep getting better.

You might hit the target on the first try, or it might stretch into double-digit territory. Every victory moves you forward.

What separates you from someone who “has been thinking about writing a screenplay?” You are ACTUALLY DOING IT, and even though you know firsthand what a frustratingly aggravating and slow-as-molasses-in-January process it is, you soldier on.

Just finished a draft? You both dread and look forward to the inevitable rewrite.

You do not suffer writer’s block gladly. In fact, you challenge it. With a vengeance.

Faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, you think your way through/around it to a solution. You practically thrive on your ability to keep going, despite how high the odds are stacked against you or when it feels hopeless.

You want this so bad it actually does hurt.

That spark of creativity burns blindingly bright inside you, and you fan the flames as often as possible.

You write because you can’t imagine doing anything else. Coming up with ideas, stories, scenarios and characters brings you a special satisfaction that only a select few can relate to.

A lot of us go into this with dreams of making a career of this. Some will succeed, many won’t, but we don’t let that deter us.

We all have a rocky road ahead, so make sure you keep doing whatever you have to in order to stay on it. The final destination is well worth it.

Happy travels, chums.


Networking: more than just a group thing

May 1, 2015

“Working on the rewrite while I wait to hear from that manager. How about you guys?”

Despite the fact that writing, for the most part, is a solitary activity, a lot of us take great pleasure in being connected with other writers.

They can be the invaluable support, guidance and motivation we sometimes need to give us that little extra boost. Having a problem and being able to tap into this kind of resource in order to find a solution is priceless.

We get access to all the goings-on, good and bad, that happen among us and our peers.

While I’ve seen my fair share of both, I’m glad to say that a majority have been of a positive nature. This person got a manager. That person finished their latest draft. That other person began working with another writer on a new project. I’m thrilled for all of these developments, and offer up congratulations and words of encouragement. Each and every one of these people has worked hard to reach this particular milestone.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous. That sense of longing and wondering “Will I eventually/ever get to announce some good news of my own?” keeps nagging at me, so I continue to buckle down and redouble my efforts in the hopes of making it happen a little sooner. Some days it’s really tough to be patient.

On the other side of the coin are the not-so-great things. This person’s script got a pass from a high-profile agent. That person is suffering from a severe case of writer’s block (or worse – depression). That other person is going through some tough things in their personal life. These also happen to a lot of us, resulting in messages of sympathy, understanding and moral support.

I’ve experienced this too. When times are tough, you find out who’s really in your corner, and are glad to know it.

But I wouldn’t have any of this kind of support if I hadn’t sought it out. There’s a reason it’s called “social” media. I’ve been able to connect with so many awesome people because of what I’ve read or seen about them online.

Is there a writer (professional or peer) whose work you enjoy? Someone whose tweets always make you chuckle? Send ’em a note telling them that.

Even better – are they in your area? When I learn about a local writer, I’ll offer up the opportunity for a face-to-face chat over coffee or lunch. I’ve also done this with folks just visiting the Bay Area. This has resulted in some great ongoing working relationships.

Everybody’s career advances at its own pace, and all the fantastic help and support we get on days good and bad are major pluses. Many writers are introverts at heart, but you have to make the effort to put yourself out there and get to know somebody.

It gets easier the more you do it, and you’ll be glad you did.


That moment of clarity

February 13, 2015
Don't you love when these show up?

Don’t you love when these show up?

I’ve always said that with each draft of every script I work on, my writing gets a little bit better. Definitely a “learn as you go” scenario.

If you looked at my earlier work, you’d probably say it was pretty basic. Very straightforward. Average. With the later stuff, you’d see improvement. Better, but still some room to grow.

Among the helpful comments I received regarding the previous draft of my western was “give us more flair in the prose…make the details a bit more colorful.”

This can be a trap a lot of writers fall into. You want your writing to be vivid and descriptive, but it’s easy to overdo it and before you know it, the storytelling overshadows your actual story.

Since I started the rewrite, I’ve been doing my best to maintain an equal balance of both so the story is told in an entertaining way and easy for a reader to visualize what’s happening. If they feel like they’re actually there, experiencing it along with the characters, then I’m doing a good job.

Working on an action sequence earlier this week, I was struggling to come up with the best way to describe the events as they played out. Ordinary words weren’t cutting it, and the ever-present thesaurus wasn’t offering much help either. I knew what I wanted to say, but couldn’t come up with the right way to say it.

You can describe how something happens, but is it strong enough to hold somebody’s attention? Is there a “more colorful” way to say it? How could you add “more flair”?

If I were reading this, what would make me want to keep going? What would compel me to want to know what happens next?

Since this is, at its heart, my take on a pulp story, I decided to embrace that aspect and run with it. I mean really run. Let loose and color those words in the perfect shade of purple.

To say it made a difference is putting it mildly.

Words and descriptions that refused to make themselves known before were sprouting up left and right. This was exactly how I imagined the sequence and exactly how it should be written.

A key point to remember in all of this is that this is what works for me. Your writing and your style are totally your own, and only you can find the best way to do it.

I won’t say that everything from here on in for me will be as easy or productive, but it’s definitely a change for the better, and I for one am looking forward to seeing the end result.

 

 


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