OK, class, this week we look at the greatest pitfall of being a screenwriter: dealing with producers. While there are excellent, caring, conscientious producers out there ready to embrace my “vision,” I have yet to meet them. Instead, I have encountered many who have been less than responsive to my work. Here goes a list of interactions I have had (or could have if I made it that far), whether bad, badder, or terrible.
1. No Reply. This is the most common and should not hazard any second thought. Producers are busy people and ninety percent of the time will not have time to respond to your query, talk about your script, or stroke your ego. Feel a bit blessed in that in this situation you never had your hopes crushed in the first place. OK? No sniffling.
2. A Bite but Nothing. This is perhaps the most annoying interaction with a producer. He or she will send you an email, often of two or three lines and lacking any more depth than “We read the query letter.” You will quickly write back with a longish email about your influences and your plans for the script, send the script priority and then never hear another word from that production company. In future days every time you see their logo flash on TV before a movie trailer you will secretly curse yourself, them, the postal service, and everyone who got in the way of your trailer making it to the small screen.
3. “I Love the Concept!” and Then Nothing. This is a great deal like number two except even more excruciating. You will write an even longer email reply, send the script via courier, take out a loan on a condo in West Los Angeles and then wait several days for a phone call. Every morning you will wake up and check your email and your phone, and then throughout the day, you will continue to check these things, waiting for a message from the producer to make it through the ether. Unfortunately, this call/email/virtual back pat will never come, and you will find yourself impotently holding the phone in a private corner of your part-time job at the Cupcake Factory crying into your white linen uniform. This happens all the time by the way.
4. Rewrite City. OK, so you have a producer interested, he or she has read the script and now has a spot of advice for the second scene when the protagonist gets lost into the Enchanted Forest. He thinks the story should reveal more of Danny’s psychological history as a military brat or some equally confusing note. You will spend the next several months working on this change only to send a revised script. You will wait another several months to hear back about the next ream of notes. You will not hear back. When you call to follow up the producer will mention something about the recession as if to explain that the reason behind his lack of interest in your vision has something to do with the Federal Reserve and Ben Bernanke.
5. The Recession. OK, this is a new one but will explain much blow back from a producer. If you thought the nineties were a difficult time to produce a script, this decade it is nearly impossible unless you are Zach Braff and have a cult following of teenage girls ready to buy your tie-in merchandise. This is directly related to the state of the economy, of course, so do not sweat it. In some room somewhere your producer is getting notes from Barack Obama who is saying “Don’t go with this script, the economy isn’t ready to handle it. We haven’t made it back yet.”
6. Oh, Wait, Who Are You? I love this one. You will develop a longstanding relationship with this producer, send him or her your script, get notes, receive feedback and start on a track to a buy. There will be a time lag when everyone is busy, the producer is on set and you are back home. You will try to reconnect a couple of months later only to reach his or her secretary who will ask you “And what is this in regards?” several times before frustrated, you will be forced to hang up and binge eat.
7. Quitting Time. Hollywood is a magical place. So magical in fact, that the moment you reach a human being on the other end of your query letter, chances are that producer/office assistant/d-girl is just about to be replaced. People disappear. Constantly. This happens all the time and can also be blamed on “the economy.” In the Hollywood economy, if you are at a job more than say six months you are either deluded or not really working but have in fact entered an alternate universe like The Matrix where you think you are at work but really strung out on the blue pill.
8. The Rejection Letter. This is perhaps the most obvious of the ten but also the unhappiest. Who likes rejection letters? I would never want to write one. What is even worse is when you receive a fun, “reasonable” rejection letter like “well, unfortunately, blah blah blah, we really liked the script but we do not feel it fits our needs at this time.” No such thing as softening the blow of a rejection letter. No matter how long I have been writing and submitting they hurt equally and are consistently day-ruiners.
9. The Go Ahead. I have never experienced but have heard that you can get very far with producers, even up to the day of shooting before the lights go dark. Be wary. Be on the lookout. Never take something as a given—especially if no checks have materialized. Sweet talk is one thing but money is another.
10. You Drop The Ball. OK, this is not exactly a producer blow-off but something to keep in mind. You need to remain ever-vigilant as you continue your dealings with producers. If one is shady, do not continue working with him or her. If there is no money at the option, there will not be any when the movie magically gets picked up. You don’t need to lose everything to make your movie, in fact, you should gain something by choosing to produce it. Remember, like anything else you make, it is your creative work, your baby and should be treated as such. Do not short change your vision. Make your movie. Ditch the producer.
Tell me how you have been mistreated, blown off by producers and remember, keep this blog PG-Rated here.
Do Not Let Your Producer Park His Jumbo Jet on Your Prius