The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

November 2000

by Terry Borst

filed 15 September 00 Copyright ©2000 alt.screenwriters

For decades, the process screenwriters used to seek representation and put scripts in the hands of producers has stayed pretty much the same. You meet people; you cultivate referrals; you build a reputation; you hope you get lucky.

The same goes for agents and managers seeking literary clients, particularly “undiscovered” ones — and for producers seeking that special script which will lead to a go-project.

On the plus side, the nature of this networking keeps many a Los Angeles restaurant and cafe open. But it’s also a bit haphazard: a six-degrees-of-separation methodology applied to the marketing and promotion of one’s talents and career.

Not surprisingly, the Web has begun to open up new doors for screenwriters seeking representation and placement of scripts. Websites are creating “virtual networking” spaces — where screenwriters can make their pitch and show their stuff, and where agents, managers and producers can look over these prospects regardless of where they live and work.

One example of such sites is WritersScriptNetwork (hereafter WSN), which began life just after the turn of the millenium, prompted by president Jerrol LeBaron’s personal experience: “The amazingly slight response I received from (submitting and marketing a screenplay) was an eye opener. No other artist has to spend hundreds of hours on his creation before he’s allowed to put it on the market — and then, to find out that the work ends up gathering dust on a shelf is just unfair.”

Muralists and Broadway choreographers might take issue with the first part of that statement, but no matter. LeBaron felt compelled to create “an effective way by which screenwriters, agents and managers can get new contacts and greater exposure for their scripts”.

For $30 per six months, a screenwriter can get himself listed on WSN — along with a resume, indication of representation and WGA membership, a script logline, and most importantly, the screenplay itself, as an outline, treatment, or even full text. (Writers who post their scripts should first register them with the WGA, to begin to create a paper trail of their intellectual property assets.)

$30 could seem like a lot for just one script — until you begin to tote up the cost to distribute just one script to one contact. A few dollars for reproduction, a few dollars for delivery (whether it’s postage or gas + auto maintenance costs) … and hey, let’s face it, how often can you ever retrieve that copy for re- use?

Suddenly $30 seems like a good deal — if WSN can truly deliver new contacts.

To that end, each “hit” for the script logline is tracked, and client-writers are emailed whenever their material has been accessed by agents, managers or producers — with full information about who’s reading their work. Readers are protected legally because the writer has already signed a release form with WSN.

LeBaron has actively courted signatory agencies, management companies and production companies to use the site (free of charge) — and his work has begun to pay off. While we can feel pretty confident that Mike Ovitz and Gavin Polone aren’t running searches on the site, other legitimate agents and managers have indeed begun to sign up clients after using WSN. A new generation of literary representatives sees the Web as a logical extension to their industry networking.

“Managers and producers will rely more and more on sites such as WSN to find new talent,” says Brooklyn Weaver of the management company Energy Entertainment. East coast literary agent Terry Porter agrees, saying “This will be the way of the future, to some degree” — though he feels “the one-on-one pitch with a development exec is still the best way to go.”

Weaver says “the advantage (to this new approach) is the global exposure. It all comes down to the quality of writing within the global marketplace.” He adds that for fledgling writers, “the opportunity to break in to Hollywood is unprecedented.”

However, a growing number of WGA writers are also trying out sites like WSN. Rogers Turrentine, whose extensive episodic credits include Homicide, Northern Exposure and Cagney and Lacey, has listed a feature script and “due to the amount of initial activity,” he says, “I just decided to re-up for another six months.”

Turrentine looks at WSN as “another avenue of placing work.” Echoing a familiar screenwriter’s lament, he says that his representation “is not proactive … so I do what I have to in order to generate interest.”

Turrentine mentions that the WSN newsletter, which is free of charge to anyone who signs up for it, “has led to several ongoing exchanges with companies regarding projects I just happen to have in my hip pocket.”

Feature writer and playwright Ginny Cerrella also cites the newsletter as being useful. She has listed with WSN’s free short script service, and while no assignments have yet resulted from her listing, it has landed her an invitation to be part of a seminar panel at an upcoming film festival, something sure to increase her visibility. She views WSN as “another outlet where I can hook up and possibly do business with new people in the industry” but cautions that screenwriters should “never send out material to questionable sources.”

LeBaron says that WSN already has 350 registered industry professionals (agents, managers and producers), nearly all of whom he has spoken to personally, after verifying their credentials and credits. “They have to qualify to get access to scripts,” he says, adding that this screening process “weeds out most of the riffraff.”

Screenwriter Cerrella lives in Santa Fe, and an obvious benefit of WSN is that it makes networking a little easier for writers outside of L.A. and New York. This was the case for Patrick Hanlon, who found representation through his WSN posting and hopes this will lead to produced credits and WGA membership. “At the time that I finished my script, I was living and working in Japan,” he says. “I received a request for the script from Preferred Artists and another production company during the last week of June, barely two months after posting my script on the ‘net. I’m quite impressed with having gotten this far this fast, as it’s my first effort to get attention for one of my scripts.”

WSN is only one example of websites looking to hook up screenwriters with agents and producers. Other examples include GoodStory, HollywoodLitSales and InZide, but new websites competing in this arena are coming online all the time. A related type of website offers professional coverage for a fee, with the idea (which we all know is true) that most producers and representation would rather read coverage than a full script. Some of these include ScriptShark, Screenplay411, and StoryBay.

It’s unlikely, of course, that traditional networking — conferences, film festivals, parties and screenings — will soon go away (that would put far too many caterers and waiters out of work!). But there is now another way for screenwriters to get noticed, and to have the work speak for itself. And that can only be a good thing for all of us who love the writing but hate the selling…

Written by tborst

September 15, 2000 at 9:28 pm

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