Look Before You Leap

September 2, 2012
By jemartin

There are a lot of people connected to Hollywood and screenwriting who are after your money. Screenplay reviewers, mentors, contests, script listing sites – the list is endless.

I’ve been kicking around a few years now and I have some advice for you before you spend your money. Take it for what it’s worth.

Always do your research.

If you are going to pay someone for notes, google them. Who have they done coverage for? Do they have testimonials or reviews? Do they work for any professional companies? What have they written? Will they show you a sample of what you can expect?

There are a gazillion contests: Who are the winners? Google the winners and contact them if you can. Read the reviews on Moviebytes. Because contests are skill based and not games of chance, they are not regulated. I am aware of a contest that collected entrance fees only to award the prize to people who didn’t exist – meaning nothing was awarded at all. Those contests are easy to find – google the “winners”. Most screenplay contest winners will have multiple hits from a variety of sources – fake winners don’t.

There are, on the flip side, contests that you might want to consider.  Not to endorse, but I’ve entered The Nicholl Fellowship, The Studio Fellowships, Page and Scriptapalooza.

Be especially careful of contests that guarantee the winner meetings with executives or representation. There are legitimate ones but unless they can connect you with someone who can help you, through work or networking, they are useless. If the contest promises connection to executives, it should name them – if not, be afraid. They are likely peripheral people who won’t be able to help your career.  Some will get you an agent.  Remember, just having an agent will not get you work.

I’d be shy of contests that offer, if you win, to make your film or short film. First, make sure they have made films in the past and check out those films for their quality. Also, read the rules very carefully. What rights do you retain? Most of these people are using the contest entry fees to raise money to shoot their own projects. If you are OK with that, then go for it, but understand, they will never be as ‘into’ your project.

Mentors are hot. Some offer a certain amount of advice for a lot of money. Most of the advice you can get from any good job-hunt book for hundreds less. Can they tell you whose careers they’ve launched? What have they done? I’m always leery of people who had success many years ago touting their ability to connect you. If they can do it for you, why aren’t they doing it for themselves? I am aware of one mentoring group that is nothing more than free labor for the Mentor under the guise that they will be connected in the future. Somehow, I doubt it.

Which brings me to working for free. Hollywood is built on the idea of ‘paying your dues’. Most people in entertainment have spent some amount of time working for no pay or deferred pay in small independent short films and features.  As a writer, I think it’s a great idea to get on set and see how things are shot. I’m also of the opinion that it can be a very good experience to accept no pay or deferred pay on a writing project if it means your work will get shot.

Whenever someone wants you to work for free. Ask yourself: What credit will I get? What will I learn? Will I meet people who can help my career or who can teach me something? What do I get out of it? Never be afraid to ask that question and if you want a certain credit, ask for it. Be insistent but always be flexible. If at any point, you feel taken advantage of, then you are being taken advantage of and run away.

I hope this helps…

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