5 Things To Know About Dealing With Producers
By Jacob Krueger
When that big door finally cracks open and a producer shows an interest in your script, it tends to come with a flood of emotion, from joy to anxiety. But remember, selling your script is always about the long game, building the long term connections rather than trying to make the sale.
So here’s some advice to help you keep your head amid all the excitement.
1) Don’t send your script till it’s ready.
Often, when you get that first script request, your first urge is to finish your script overnight and get it sent out right away. But any producer would much rather read a great script a few months from now than a crappy one today.
So if your script isn’t ready, be honest with them! Tell them you’re so happy they liked your pitch, that you’re in the early phases of this draft, and that you’d like to send it to them as soon as it’s ready. You only get one chance to make this first impression. And sending a script that isn’t ready for prime time is like showing up at a job interview without putting your pants on first. You can’t rush this process. So take the time you need to get it right.
2) Get Professional Feedback
Make sure someone who knows a heck of a lot more than you do about the business takes a good look at your script before you send it out, get it professionally edited for formatting and grammar mistakes, and make you are hooking the audience from the very first page. Because if you don’t, that just might be the only page the read.
Producing a film can cost anywhere from a million to 100 million dollars. If you’re going to ask someone to invest that kind of money in your script, you better come off like a polished professional, who understands the value of delivering a professionally written project.
3) Do Your Research
All producers are not created equal. And there’s more to this business than just money. Everyone dreams of the big sale, and if you are fortunate enough to have that kind of interest, that’s wonderful. But often the first step in your career isn’t a big sale but a small option agreement, or simply a meeting, some development notes, and a request to see the next draft of the script.
Remember, you’re playing the long game, and investing in the relationships with the people you believe in. To work with the right producer, who understands your writing and can help foster your career, it might be worth accepting a small option agreement, or even doing this kind of speculative rewrite. But if you’re going to do that kind of work, you better know who you’re doing it for. Look them up on imdb.com. Watch their movies. Do you like what you see?
It’s an unfortunate truth that professional producers ask writers for free rewrites all the time. And sometimes it’s worth doing those rewrites in order to build the connection and move the project along. But if you’re working with a young producer who hasn’t produced anything yet, then make sure they “show you the money”– because if they can’t afford to pay you to write the script, there’s a good chance they can’t really raise the money produce it. Before you do any unpaid work, think about their notes, and ask yourself if they’re truly serving the project. Do you believe in this person enough to put your baby in their hands?
4) Hire an entertainment attorney to look over your deal.
I don’t care if you’re working with your best friend. If you don’t have an agreement in writing that clearly lays out everyone’s expectations, things are gonna get ugly, and somebody (probably you) is going to get screwed.
You’re going to invest thousands of hours and years of your life in this project. It’s worth spending a little bit of money to make sure you didn’t do all that work for nothing. Make sure you hire someone who specializes in entertainment law. Not only will they do a better job of negotiating. If they believe in you as a writer, they can also introduce you to agents, managers and producers in their circle when you’re ready to take that step in your career.
5) Copyright your work. Then stop worrying about people stealing it.
Register your work with the US Copyright office. That’s the only way to protect your copyright. Put one line on the bottom left hand corner of your title page, like this: Copyright © Jacob Krueger. But don’t cover every page of your script with warnings about your copyright. Producers are already afraid of being sued, and coming off as paranoid about copyright infringement almost guarantees your script is not going to get read.
The risk of an idea being stolen is an occupational hazard of being a writer, right along with carpel tunnel syndrome and coffee addiction. There’s no legal way to protect an idea (even with a copyright), but a copyright does give you protection against the theft of the execution of that idea.
While the two-bit producer you met on craigslist might be dumb enough to try to steal your script, any legitimate producer would have to be crazy to do so. To a real producer, the cost of optioning your script is pocket change, especially compared to the cost of defending a lawsuit. It’s not just worth the trouble. What they will do, if you’re not represented by an agent or a manager, is ask you to sign a ridiculously aggressive release form. And though it may seem like they’re trying to steal your script, your soul and your first born child. Most likely what they’re really trying to do is protect themselves.
If you’ve truly identified the right producer for your script, the chances are they look at a ton of movies in your genre. They may even have an idea very similar or exactly the same as yours already in development. And their worst fear is that some young writer, who doesn’t understand how many similar scripts are out there in development, will send them some half-baked script with some similar elements, become convinced that they stole the idea, and end up suing them and killing a project they spent millions of dollars and years of time and energy into developing.
Like any legal question, you should discuss any release form with your lawyer before you sign it. Sometimes simply by submitting your script through a lawyer, you can get around signing a release form at all, and other times it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth taking the risk for the opportunity to build a relationship with that producer. But here’s the thing to remember. Great ideas are a dime a dozen in Hollywood. But great scripts are a rare commodity. If you’ve really executed your idea in a way that delivers exactly what a producer is looking for, they’re most likely going to want buy it from you. And if they’re smart, they’re going to want to build a long term relationship with you, so they can read your next script too, before everybody else in the business finds out about you.
That’s not to say that there aren’t crazy people out there. And no one can promise you that your idea isn’t going to get stolen. But compared to the risk of what happens if you don’t pitch your script, it’s usually a risk worth taking.
Taking The Next Step
Now that you know what to do once you find a producer, the next question is, how do you find one? Especially if no one is currently banging down your door. We live in the most exciting time possible to be an emerging writer. Social media has brought our world closer together, and between Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and Kickstarter, it’s now easier than ever to connect to the people you need (or the people who know those people), and if all else fails, to produce your own opportunities. Start by doing your research, identifying the right producers for your project, and pitching your script to everyone you meet. You don’t know it yet, but somebody in your social network already knows the person you’re trying to get to.
If your script is ready to go, and you’d like to learn more about pitching your script, making industry connections, and leveraging the power of your own social media, I invite you to download my Sell Your Script! (Without Selling Your Soul) video seminar. But remember, the first step to selling anything is to make sure you have something that’s ready to sell. So if you’re not sure if your script is ready, give us a call at 917-464-3594. We can talk about your project, and connect you to the right program for your needs.