Do You Have The Chops For Hollywood?

You betcha, even if you’re a vegetarian. As long as you remember that there is no magic bullet. Connections can get you a read, meeting or even a free lunch, but ultimately you need to have an arsenal of quality commercial scripts under your belt. Write often. Write Well. Read scripts. Lots of them. Take classes. After 15 years I’m still learning new skills or different takes to various screenwriting paradigms. Read novels. Ermm. I’m hopeless for that. It was one of my new year’s resolutions. Be out there. Completed scripts languishing on your laptop gathering dust are about as useful as tits on a bull.

During this month’s seminar held by the good people at The Scriptwriters Network, I got to listen to Michele Wallerstein rattle on about making Hollywood take notice of you. As a new writer, you’re competing with seasoned, produced writers, so know the game. Know it well. Most agents are bonkers. It’s an endearing trait. Get used to it. Fire an agent who throws things at their assistant.

Ms Wallerstein began her career in the music biz, worked for various talent agencies, ran her own agency and now works as a script and career consultant. She is certifiably insane, but we wouldn’t have her any other way. However, despite her eccentricity, she carries much wisdom and positivity. The world always needs story tellers. We perform a vital community service. Truly. Heck, she told us all to learn Yiddish, if we want to succeed in Hollywood. How’s that for advice? The extent of my lexicon is Mozel Tov (or is that Hebrew?) and I don’t even know what it means. I hear it a lot at Jewish weddings.

Now for the nitty gritty (what’s that in Yiddish?) Yada Yada Yada.

  • Write THREE scripts in the same genre. Although writing three scripts in different genres shows you have range, writing in the same genre indicates a level of proficiency by the third script. This translates as a higher chance of being read. Hollywood also likes to pigeonhole writers. Notice Hollywood ads like “from the writer that brought your (insert name of movie) comes (insert name of other movie in the same genre). Since forming connections between concepts is part of our cognitive process, we are more likely to see a film in the same genre if we liked the writer’s previous film.
  • Hone your craft. Take classes, read books, listen to podcasts, go online. Observe new trends in format, structure and length. By now you should know that the average script is no longer 120 pages, but closer to 110; 90 with comedies and horror. Keep descriptions and parentheticals to an absolute minimum. Eliminate scene directions entirely. Inexperienced and prose writers love to over describe to dazzle us with their mastering of the English language. Not you. Ensure that the main character appears on at least 90% of the script if you want an A list actor interested. Keep your script lean, mean and clean with lots of sheen to keep ’em keen not mean. Depending on who you ask, agents read between 3 and 20 pages of your script before making a decision. If there is no clear main character, flaw, conflict and goal early on to drive the film, they’ll lose interest.
  • Attend as many networking events as you can: pitchfests, bitchfests, expos, conferences, workshops, film festivals, seminars, writers’ groups, social mixers, online chat rooms, even therapy. Meet as many agents as possible. Introduce yourself. Follow up. Buy them a drink, or better still, get them to buy you one. You’re worth it. Shoot the breeze. Only pitch if asked. Don’t be needy, pushy, flaky, intense, vague, rude, arrogant, argumentative or shy. I like to get cheeky to make sure they’re paying attention. Then I blame it on the chardonnay if they get offended. If they like you, they may refer you to an agent, producer, manager or someone else in authority. Many agents won’t read unsolicited material unless it’s a recommendation.
  • If asked to pitch, have at least TEN ideas. The simple anatomy of a pitch is WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE? It’s a taster of your story. Keep it focused. Have your THREE scripts ready to go in case they want a read. Send, email, courier, send, pigeon post your script within 24 hours. Any longer, they’ll forget who you are. Or you might forget who they are. Or both! Follow up a few weeks later. Think about your audience and who you envisage playing the main character. And don’t say your partner or relative.
  • Write a query letter. Start with a title, genre and logline. Continue with a one paragraph synopsis and one paragraph about you. Include details of education and any accolades; options, contest placements, awards. Ensure you have included your name, address, telephone number and email address. Triple check grammar, punctuation, speling, syntax. Then check it again. And no more than one page in length.
  • Don’t be precious about your script. It will get rewritten, if not by you, then by someone else. As the creative development process continues, new perspectives will evolve. Your story will change.
  • Never submit your first draft. It should be about draft three before you think about sending it out. Get professional feedback.
  • Write fast. Nothing is more boring than a writer still working on the same script from six years ago. Finish it already. Don’t write too fast either. Knocking off a new script every month suggests that you’re not spending enough time rewriting.
  • Have staying power. Now I sound like an ad for Cialis. So you’re ready when they are! As you’re waiting for a script to be read, start another. Don’t be stuck on one idea. Keep writing spec scripts to keep your writing fresh.
  • If you score a meeting, arrive early. Wear smart casual clothes; jeans are fine, but your Metallica t-shirt is not. A long-sleeved shirt with the top button undone should do the trick. You don’t want to appear uptight. Visit the bathroom before your meeting. I need to wipe off my sweat as I tend to cycle around LA and arrive like a hog. Touch up your deodorant and makeup. Be attentive, polite, interactive, amenable, receptive and intuitive. Don’t be a doormat, but don’t argue with every point either. Know when the meeting is over.
  • Preserve your self respect. If someone keeps you waiting for too long, leave. If a producer is commitment phobic loves your script but won’t option your it, leave them. Take baby steps until your career blossoms. You won’t get a seven figure sale on your first script. Be realistic.
  • Be aware that the huge sums of money once available for development back in the day are gone. Studios are opting for one step deals, maybe a polish if you’re lucky. They’re also clamping down on the fat paychecks for writers too.
  • It’s a jungle out there, but there are a few things you can control. Sometimes, an executive just doesn’t like your script or you. It happens. Move on. Get over it. Rejection is a part of life in any profession.
  • Enjoy the writing experience. Stop chasing trends. By the time you finish writing a script in the current trend, it will have passed. Write what you love. The pleasure will get you through the storm.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Jim: Wanted to thank you for the blog about my seminar. It is always a pleasure for me to meet new writers. I understand the struggle and all the hard work that goes into trying to get into the world of film.
    Let me know if I can help with anything. I am open to you and all of your readers for questions about their work. Best, Michele

    1. JG Sarantinos says:

      no probs. always happy to promote the writing cause and do anything to raise the bar. i blog to enable writers all over the world to feel included in the hollywood scene. that’s why i love to post the buzz. just on an aside, did you say you were looking for a buddy script? i may have just the thing. looking forward to your book too…
      anyways, i’m escaping my office and celebrating new years in china town….

  2. Hi: Buddy scripts are always good possibilities, however, I am not
    specifically looking for one.

    By the way, my new book, “MIND YOUR BUSINESS: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide to Your Writing Career”, will be in book stores on
    July 1, 2010. It can be pre-ordered on, now.

    Best, Michele

    1. JG Sarantinos says:

      thanks for this michelle. the screenwriting world always needs business info for writers. if you want to write a 300-500 word entry for my blog offering real career advice to writers, i’m happy to provide a link to you to promote your book. i currently have around 3000 readers and growing. my aim is to improve the screenwriting world one blog at a time.

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