SE2 D291: Know When You're Being Scammed

June 18, 2017

 

It’s been about six weeks since my last post, and a lot has happened in the intervening time. I completed the Inside the Room workshop, did a script query blast, worked the Dances With Films film Festival, wrapped up the season at Tuesdays@9, attended the IAWTV workshop, and brought in Everyday Clowns to Rewrites. These are all topics I intended to cover in this update, but something happened today in regards to the query blast that has become the focus of this blog.

 

I GOT SCAMMED!

 

Actually, I didn’t get scammed but not for lack of trying on a scammer’s part. The story begins with query blast I did for Nowhere to Run back on April 28.

 

As you may recall, I enlisted a blast service under the name of ScriptDelivery.net to query 9,200 producers, agents, managers and directors. The cost to reach all 9,200 companies was $90. A fellow writer in one of my Facebook forums had used this service when he was starting out and managed a sale.

 

Having tried to seek out specific companies and managers on my own using the Hollywood Screenwriting Directory from the Writer’s Store proved too cumbersome and time-consuming. I spent a good week or more going through the directory trying to determine who might be interested in an action thriller. Then you have to decide who accepts scripts or only query letters and whether they want email or snail mail. Will they accept inquiries from unrepresented writers? Will they take inquiries from writers who are unrepresented but have a produced feature?

 

There are a million different parameters – or so it seems – and it is a time intensive process staring at thousands of listings in very small print.  Once you have identified your list, you have to write your letters. Copying and pasting come in handy, but you still have to enter each email address and salutation by hand, another time consuming and extremely tedious process.

 

I managed to send out about 200 letters in 2 weeks. I received zero responses. Not completely true. I did receive about 100 auto-replies saying the person I was trying to contact no longer worked for the company. That was a 50% reject rate based solely on erroneous information in the directory. And before you ask, yes, I had the latest up-to-date version. And how many of the remaining letters also didn’t get to their destination and ended up in the Internet ether? This didn’t seem to be a good way to go about querying producers.

 

When my fellow screenwriter recommended Script Delivery, it seemed like a risk. After all, he had made a sale. It also meant I could hit a lot more people in a vastly shorter amount of time, even if they weren’t specifically targeted, and a measly 90 bucks would save a lot of effort on my part. So, I gave it a shot.

 

I started receiving responses almost immediately. Unfortunately, there were a number of “this person no longer works here” and more frustratingly, a very large number of replies that said they did not accept script submissions; please send a query letter.

 

Huh?

 

Apparently, they didn’t read the actual letter I sent. Out of the supposed 9,200 submissions, I received close to 300 responses with the vast majority asking for a query letter. It was disheartening. On the bright side, I only received a handful of outright rejections. On the really bright side, I had 7 script requests. Of the other 8,900 queries, I heard nothing, which amounts to a rejection. Still, I had 7 requests. That’s 7 more than I had been able to get on my own. Happily, I sent out the script. Here’s where the scam comes in.

 

So far I have received two responses to the script. The first was ‘not right for us.’ Okay, moving on. The second response said they liked the script. It was, in their words, ‘not too bad.” However, there were mistakes in the script that made them cautious about pursuing it. Their biggest concern was formatting.

 

Formatting? I have spent a lot of time learning formatting and keep Trottier’s The Screenwriter’s Bible on my shelf for easy reference. They were specifically concerned with long line count and improper use of parentheticals. There were also numerous instances of improper scene breaks.

 

Now they could tell what the problems were, but were concerned that without mentoring I would just make the same mistakes again with a rewrite. Luckily, they have a mentoring service that, for a small fee, will educate me. After I have completed the course, they will reevaluate the script. Lucky me.

 

Now I’ve been around long enough to know that when a producer starts asking you to pay him to consider your script. . .it’s time to run.

 

But what if he’s right? What if there are problems with the formatting? Let’s take a look.

 

As regards the long line count, I don’t even know what that means. The script is 104 pages in length. The dialogue is written out in three lines or less, with the bulk of the dialogue consisting of one or two lines. There are a few places where characters speak a little longer, but certainly in no way that inhibits the story. And there are no Shakespearean monologues.

 

Okay, what about parentheticals. I have about 30 of them in the entire script. 10 of them are used to indicate language – some of the characters speak Spanish. Readers tend to be English-speaking, so you write the line out in English and use the parenthetical to indicate the line should be delivered in Spanish. For example:

 

                           REYDEL

                 (in Spanish)

         The money is for all of us.

 

This is the format both Trottier and T. J. Alex (Your Cut To: Is Showing) consider industry standard. And it’s what I did.

 

Another 10 parentheticals are used to indicate a line should be delivered to a particular character if it is not readily apparent from the reading. Such as:

 

                            SHEP

                  (to Tyler)

          You’re a piece of work.

 

Again, this is industry standard.

 

So, two-thirds of my parentheticals are industry standard. That leaves the last third or 10 parentheticals out of 104 pages of dialogue. These are the parentheticals that give the actor direction on how a line should be said. This is often frowned upon, as it is believed by many that writers should not give actors direction. By now, you should know how I feel about that. It’s my work, my story. I’ll tell it how I want. The actor is free to use or not use any direction I give. I do, however, try to write in such a way that the line delivery is readily understandable without direction. On occasion, you want to be sure your intention is clear, or you want the line to be read in a way that is different than what might be expected for subtext or some other reason. So, you use a parenthetical. This is acceptable by Trottier’s standards, but he does recommend you use it sparingly.

 

I’ve got just 10 instances in 104 pages. That’s one parenthetical every 10.5 pages. I think I’m pretty sparing. And are you really going to pass on a good script for that reason? I think not.

 

That brings us to the last point of contention: improper scene breaks. I have no idea what that means. My scenes end. The next one starts. I give the new scene a proper slug: INT. SHEP’S TRAILER – NIGHT. That’s it. Nowhere do I use transitional elements between scenes. Not one CUT TO:, DISSOLVE TO:, WIPE TO: OR FADE TO:, all of which are big no no’s in screenwriting.

 

I thought maybe it was something with the way I was ending scenes story wise, but the note was about formatting, and my scene formatting is spot on.

 

Now, I can’t know exactly what the problems are until I pay for mentoring. After which, they will reconsider my script. And therein lies the scam. If they didn’t like the script, they should just reject it. If they liked it, are they really going to reject it because of a couple of parentheticals?

No, what they really want is to get a gullible and probably desperate screenwriter to fork over some money while they dangle the prospect of a potential script sale in front of the screenwriter. There will never be a sale, and there will definitely not be a production of said script.

 

Unfortunately, there are enough writers with stars in their eyes to fall for this and provide a little income for these scammers posing as producers. I’m not one of them. There was no mention of issues with the story or structure or characters or plot holes, just a concern over parentheticals that can be remedied with a few strokes of the delete key. This was a scam pure and simple, and one I paid $90 to be a part of.

 

Now, the scammers didn’t get any money out of me, but ScriptDelivery.net did. And with all the rejections asking for a query letter, which is what I supposedly sent, you have to ask yourself if query blast services are a scam themselves. Like I said earlier, a fellow writer made a sale through Script Delivery, so they have some legitimacy; but I have to wonder what exactly they sent on my behalf since so many companies thought I was submitting materials.

 

On a final note, while working one of the panel discussions at Dances With Films, I heard several producers say they never consider a query that comes from a blast service; it’s an automatic delete. Well, that advice came a day late and $90 short.

 

So it appears the only person(s) benefitting from using query blast services are the blast service themselves. Unless, of course, you take the scammers up on their offer.

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