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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Getting "Results"... And Being Realistic

So a guy on the Shooting People Screenwriters' Bulletin wonders why he should use a "gimmicky" promotion service like My Visual Pitch and asks if such services should "put their money where their mouth is" and only extract payment on delivery - ie. they should only get paid if the pitch elicits some sort of response, like a meeting with a producer or at least an email response.

I have never met this guy, have never spoken to him - but since he posted these opinions on a public forum I figure his comments are fair game for a post of my own. I should stress at this juncture too that this post is not personal - hence my decision not to post his name here; instead I thought I would use this opportunity to address a scenario that I hear about again and again from (usually new) screenwriters.

Most screenwriters' efforts will come to nothing. I hate to say that, I'm a great believer in the ethos of "build it and they will come" Field of Dreams style, but let's face it: you CAN put the work in and get sod all in return. That's a fact. What's more, people far less talented than you can trample all over you and get the cream of the crop - and worse, you will see them do this. Argh.

But this is the very worst case scenario: for a lot of us, we can enjoy some modicum of "success", if only within our own heads. How? By doing all we can to promote ourselves. Leave no stone unturned and if it still comes to nothing, well: at least you tried.

I don't earn much money as a screenwriter. But I do earn money and I have done jobs that turned out to be fun. My favourite still has to be one of my first, working for the Lego company. Other times I've written treatments or pitches, website copy or articles for magazines. I've been commissioned on a feature (unmade, but I was still paid) and a couple of paid commissions for shorts. I've done virals and I've done text message alerts. I don't have any options on my specs and I've never won a script contest, but I get plenty of reads and plenty of meetings. I always have an interesting collaboration or two on the go with someone I respect. In short, I am a typical jobbing writer, the writing equivalent of that bloke your Gran might get to do odd jobs around the house. I hope one day to be more than that and hopefully work in TV, but if I don't get there, I can still say I did what I wanted to do, rather than have to work in a office on a job I didn't want to do. Not bad - in my eyes, anyway.

Yet time and time again I hear screenwriters say selling their spec is the be all and end all; that is the "result" for them, how they measure their success. My take, if you think this?

You are destined for disappointment.

I don't want to be a killjoy; everyone knows on here I applaud the philosophy of being "in it to win it", but sometimes you have to move sideways to get to where you want to be. Sometimes you end up staying there. This is just the way it is.

The only way to get ahead is to promote yourself. There are many ways to do this. Promotion companies are just one of them, but if you pay your money and they do the work they promise you, where is the problem there? Just imagine if all payment in the film industry was on the basis of "results": I would think that 99.9% of us would be destitute (instead of about 80%, lol). And how would these "results" be judged, anyway? There are so many factors to consider. A meeting with a producer or a read of a script guarantees nothing. Similarly, as far as the internet goes, testimonials seem to hold no weight with jaded people who say that testimonials are not detailed enough or that they have no idea who those people are.

You can get ahead - and that's by applying for every job, going for every opportunity, considering avenues that may not have occurred to you before. It's by making contacts, networking, creating your own circle of people all around you who will keep you "in the loop". It's not by being the lone writer who will get through no matter what - there's already thirteen billion of them. Discount nothing. Some things will work; most will not.

Screenwriting is the triumph of hope over experience I reckon; you keep going because you have to - otherwise what's the point?

18 comments:

Elinor said...

Well said Luce! I would include turning negative comments to your own advantage, strictly in the interests of shameless self-promotion of course.

Robin Eveleigh said...

Hi Lucy - please feel free to use my name on your blog if you wish. I'm not shy.

For the record, I posted my comments on a public forum because as well as being a place for you to promote someone who you say has provided you with a good service, the bulletin is also a place for discussion.

Of course, I agree: promoting your work as a screenwriter is a big chunk of the battle. But is MVP the best way to do it? The most cost effective? Is it even any good?

Out of interest, compare the VP for your own screenplay Eclipse with one of the featured VPs on MVP - Corey Hood's 'The Pilot'. Notice anything similar? If I were you, and I'd paid Pamela U$500 to create a pitch for me I'd be pretty miffed if it turned out to be - visually - almost identical to another pitch. And if I was a producer and both pitches landed in my inbox, I'd be thinking WTF?!

However, I doubt you did pay U$500. Like one of the writers whose pitch you linked to yesterday, I'm guessing you had your pitch created for nothing, a fact which you failed to mention in yesterday's plug despite stressing that you're not on Pamela's payroll. If I'm right, wouldn't you agree this is a little misleading?

Finally, consider this - for the price of two 'pitches' created by MVP you could fly to the States and pitch in person.

I'm sorry if my comments did not sit well with you, but I think credit where credit's due. In this case, I don't feel it is.

Best,


Robin Eveleigh

Lucy said...

Elinor - why not!

Robin - Thanks but I wasn't censoring myself: as I also mention my concerns are not specifically about your comments - and as you rightly say, the bulletin is for discussion too.

For the record I don't see a huge similarity between my pitch and that other guy's, let alone it being "visually identical". I'm also underwhelmed by your suggestion that I am trying to mislead anyone; I am NOT paid to blindly promote anyone whose work I think is substandard, just as I said yesterday.

I think this boils down to one thing and one thing only: you don't like what this company does. That's fair enough, that's your choice. But I do, that's why I recommended them.

Lucy said...

Elinor's at it again...

...while we're on the subject of Visual Pitches' "effectiveness", hop over to Elinor's blog for a little competition.

evil twinz said...

And who is this guy??

My people will call his people

LOL

Lucy said...

*Groan*... Very droll Evil! Anyway, Robin's entitled to his opinion - and as they say: no such as bad publicity! Except if you're maybe these guys.

Robin Eveleigh said...

Evil Twinz - I haven't got people. I ain't good enough.

Lucy - you're right, I don't like the product. I hope you come back in 6mths time when your subs are up and tell me it's worked wonders. Then I'll humbly eat my hat. If I can find it.

Lucy said...

I can tell you already that it's worked for me, Robin; I am collaborating on a project with someone because of it right now. Hopefully I'll get more out of it, but who knows?

Robin Eveleigh said...

That's good news, hope you get somewhere. But be honest - would you have paid U$500 to use that service?

Lucy said...

I am always honest Robin and ANY recommendation that comes from me is because I have paid, or am prepared to pay, for a service, item, course, contest or whatever. I NEVER promote blindly - it would be foolhardy, my script reading is built on people's recommendations to each other about my service so part of that is their "e-opinion" of me... Which of course is why I devote a lot of time to this blog, making it a free resource for screenwriters so they can search loads of stuff (like recommendations), not just craft. Plus it's fun to "meet" and talk to other writers online.

Tom said...

Wow! Just wow! I knew about MVP and was all very impressed but hadn't realised it cost $500 to set up. That seems, quite steep for a service to screenwriters to me. I appreciate that there's a lot of work goes into it but that really is a lot of money even with the exchange rates being what they are.

Lucy said...

It is a lot of money, Tom - for that reason a getting MVP to make you one may be better for those not on a tight budget or as a birthday present to yourself, etc.

It may be of interest then that you don't HAVE to get My Visual Pitch to make it for you. You can make your own for free and upload it as part of a subscription that costs just $59. MVP even list all the links you'll ever need to make your own visual pitch here:

http://myvisualpitch.com/how

You can also upload old fashioned loglines too as part of the subscription. That's why I like this service - there's something for every budget, splurges to smaller. I think they've thought of everything.

Piers said...

Even at $60, I don't see this as a cost-effective way of advertising yourself.

Hold on while I get out my trusty back-of-an-envelope.

Call it thirty quid with the current exchange rate. Off we go.

Buy a copy of the Writers & Artists Yearbook: £10 from Amazon

Make a list of 100 agents and production companies that are suitable for your script: Free

Cold call each of them, and ask if they would read your script: Call it a fiver for the phone bill. And I suspect that's generous.

If one in ten of them agrees to read it, you've got ten target companies/agents.

Post your script to each of the ten companies/agents: What's that, about 1.50 for postage a pop? Maybe another couple of quid for the envelopes?

So for the same price as one My Visual Pitch, you can actually have your screenplay on the desks of ten people working in the industry who are willing to read it.

In terms of value-for-money, I reckon that's got MVP beat hands-down.

Lucy said...

Does The Writers' Yearbook list American companies too? I don't have one.

It's hard getting your script in the right hands over the pond - and cold calling is a nightmare with the time difference, can never remember when it's supposed to be wherever.

Then of course sending scripts abroad - especially to the US - is a real pain. I sent hard copies of scripts to several US companies last year: what was £1.50ish over here was over £8. Ouch. And they never got back to me which was somehow worse than people over here not getting back to me, for not only had I had to wait in the damn PO, I'd had to pay several times over for the privilege.

Piers said...

For LA use the Hollywood Creative Directory.

The World Clock shows the current time in Los Angeles.

Not much we can do about the postage.

Lucy said...

Thanks Piers, you've been very helpful.

Is there an injection of confidence too for those people scared of cold calling? If anyone can find it on the ol' interweb, I'm sure you can...

; )

Piers said...

Yep. Here it is, in your very comments section.

I hate cold calling with a burning passion. It's my least-favourite thing in the business. Here's how I do it.

Write down notes about what you're going to say. Not verbatim, just bullet points. Like:

- Hi, Piers Beckley, screenwriter, done this-and-that (Yes, I really write my own name out. It's that bad.)
- Can I speak to so-and-so?
- Got a script I think is suitable for you, Title, one-short-sentence summary
- Can I send it to you?
- Who should I address it to?
- Thanks

Spend an hour or so going through it in your head and building up the courage to call. Have a pencil and paper next to you to take notes on names and such.

After a couple of attempts in which you get most of the way through the phone number but hang up before connecting the call, take a deep breath and ring the number.

Start at the top of your list of bullet points. Work to the bottom. You may need to tick them off if it's a particularly bad day in order to remember what you've done.

As soon as you're off the phone, write down who you've spoken to, their contact details, and what you agreed to do (eg send a script, try again in six months) so that you've got a record of it.

I find after the first call (which takes me an hour or so to build up to), I can then make a dozen more straight afterwards. Cos it's the same request each time, and it's much easier after the first time.

Still always takes me an hour to do that first one though.

Lucy said...

Tell me about it. I actually shake when I cold call. And you're right; it's a good system - I do it myself.

But it's not for everyone. And for those who prefer it, a promotion company like MVP, InkTip or a listing on something like Shooting People's pitch network etc can work wonders. It's literal early days for MVP, but I have several clients who've got GREAT things - sales, commissions, relationships, whatever - out of InkTip over the years.