Script Hosting Sites – Friend or Foe?
Script hosting sites divide opinion, arguably more than any other screenwriter or filmmaker resource. Maybe it’s the business model which sticks in many people’s craw (“my script’s going to sit there, passively and you’re charging what?!”), maybe it’s the fact that the success stories are so few and far between, but either way the jury’s split on this one.
We’re not going to lie, here at Industrial Scripts one of the toughest parts of our work is gaining industry traction for our Talent Connector programme.
In case you’re not aware of it, this involves us marketing details about our most promising clients’ scripts to a list of bona fide industry execs, agents and producers.
“I’ve barely got enough time for my existing clients, let alone trawling around websites looking for more” – Lit Manager
Not just anyone can have their details marketed, either – one of our script consultants has to award the script an “above Pass” rating (so “Low Consider”, “Consider” or a fabled “Recommend”) to qualify.
“Blahdiblah Script Hosting – we revolutionise the way writers and scripts are found!” (or not).
As suggested it is a serious battle to get the industry’s attention for these scripts.
So: before we collectively assess script hosting websites, let’s absorb the following hard facts…
- No Personal Bias: we have no vested interest in promoting projects, unlike agents or hosting sites. ie. if a script sells, we make no money. If a writer signs with an agent again, we make no money. There is no reason for us to send out scripts in the hope they bring in some cash for the agency. Because they don’t. Because we’re not an agency. We’re a script consultancy.
- Personal Connections: our consultants didn’t bowl into the business 6 or 12 months ago. Several of our staff have over a decade each in the industry, with all the connections and coffees and lunches and networking and deals and drunken Cannes with the powers-that-be such an industry term entails. And still we have to battle hard to get our agent and producer friends’ attention for these scripts.
- Reputation/Brand: without honking our own horns we’re one of the larger, more visible, better thought of script consultancies from the POV of those in the corridors of power. The IS name carries some weight. And still it’s a dogfight to get unknown projects from new talent read and recognised…
- Minimal Admin: our Talent Connector Programme has been designed to make the lives of execs, agents and producers as easy as possible. They get one email from us. Click a link. They browse qualifying projects. They email the writer to request the script. Job done. No trawling around large seas of projects, no search engines that overcomplicate the process, no flaff, just in, out and request the project. And still it’s tough to get agents and producers to give up the necessary time.
- It’s Free: for our clients, they’ve already received their detailed script analysis. They’ve already got what they paid for. Talent Connector is simply a free bonus add-on we deliver to our best and brightest. Talent Connector is not a paid-to-enter screenwriting competition like the hundreds of others.
So, you do the math.
Based on all of the above, do you think a paid script hosting website, with perhaps less solid credentials, would have a credible shot at gaining the attention of the industry’s incredibly busy agents, executives and producers?
Nope, neither did we.
6 Reasons Why Screenplay Hosting Sites Struggle To Deliver
Here’s 6 reasons why aspiring screenwriters should tread very, very carefully when dealing with all script hosting sites.
1. The Real Industry Doesn’t Have Time For It. Period.
“I’ve barely got enough time for my existing clients, let alone roving around websites looking for more”, an agent in LA told us.
Some script hosting sites hang their hat on the sales they’ve manufactured, or representation they’ve gained for their clients, but:
- a) one has to be sceptical about the “scale” of the option (ie. was it a proper deal involving thousands and thousands of dollars changing hands, or a $1 buy-out?);
- b) who was the option to? Hungry Badger Films based out of someone’s bedroom in the Backofbeyond or Warner Bros.? and
- c) for each sale or signing, there’s vast swell of writers who spent their money, got their script hosted, and that was the end of it. To pay to have your script hosted…and uh…uh…then what?
“My script had been optioned in the past, at different times, by two major studios but the rights had reverted back to me. So I knew already I had a superior piece of writing on my hands to 90% of the scripts out there. I decided to give a major script hosting/promotion website a try, just to test it out. I paid extra for the site to cover it, and it tested in the top 2% of scripts on the site. I thought I’d be inundated with read requests. Instead, I only received 1 request to read the script in 6 months” – An industry writer at Cannes
2. “Speed of the Puma!”: The Old Fashioned Ways Die Hard
“Film”, a learned Development Executive this writer worked under once said, “is a people business if ever there was one”. All the agents we know scout talent the old fashioned ways and work off personal referrals and recommendations. They go to the theatre, a lot. They watch short films, a lot. They field calls and emails off their friends at other companies, a lot. They do rounds of coffees and ask other people what they’ve read, a lot. They prioritise all this work way, way above pitch contests and script hosting sites and all the new ways of talent tracking that the internet has belched up. Don’t believe us? Ask around, call a few agencies. The old ways of talent tracking die harder than Bruce Willis.
3. Many Have Tried, Many Have Failed
Without naming names, there’s been enough attempts now at “revolutionising the way writers and scripts are found”. Sites appear, bury Twitter and Facebook in an avalanche of promotional tweets, and then slink off into the shadows when nothing happens. Enough already. One, maybe two sites in America have made a genuine go of it over a sustained period of years promoting/connecting scripts in a huge marketplace, but that’s it. And, again, the rules above apply – you’d find a way into the business far quicker as a writer by JUST WRITING SOMETHING AWESOME and finding a way (any way) to get it in front of someone who knows someone who knows someone, than you would uploading it to hosting sites. The game’s up, it just doesn’t work, nobody’s got the time, energy or inclination…
The industry wants writers and scripts delivered to them in the way they want them delivered…
4. No Track Record, No History of Taste
One of the other problems with the vast majority of script hosting and promotion websites is that they’re frequently run by either
- a) people who’ve never held proper jobs in script development or
- b) people who’ve never held significant jobs in development and also won’t reveal who they are.
So when Mike Hotshot at Major Talent Agency is called up by Darryl Wiggins at ScriptHosting.com (based out of Arizona) well, it doesn’t matter if Preston Sorkin has just won their comp and beaten 2,000 people in the process.
Because Mike never worked in proper development with Darryl, never got drunk at Sundance with Darryl, never had a good-natured argument with Darryl about Miami Vice at 3am, and the taste lines just aren’t in sync.
5. The Industry, like you, is Sceptical of Script Hosting Sites
The problem with the industry is this: all the agents, execs and producers want brilliant scripts. The agents want amazing scripts from unrepped writers so they can sign them. But, and this is crucial – they want these writers and scripts delivered to them in the way they want them delivered, NOT in the way the internet wants to deliver them. They want their best friend at Warners who they’ve worked with for years to call them up and tip them off. In their mind’s eye, that’s a stamp of approval. The script has now moved from the “guilty” into the “innocent” category in the agent‘s mind. Even if they don’t end up liking the script, they’ll still like it more than they would if Darryl from Arizona got in touch because no-one really believes in the script promotion model, and no-one wants to believe in it either, really. They want referrals. They want tip-offs from friends. They want to see an amazing short. They want to catch your play. Once all’s said and done, they want the old ways…
“Boogiewoogie Script Hosting even got my script optioned by a big movie-film producer while they were still testing their website!! The cheque’s in the mail, I quit my job, and am no longer a pest control officer yeeeaaaah!!”
6. Idea theft is rare, but….
It goes without saying that there are competing film and TV projects the world over. Even now, the premise behind your searingly original sci-fi blockbuster is probably being developed elsewhere, by someone else, in a different form or guise.
But if it’s just sitting there…inert…on a script hosting website, easily accesible by thousands of people…?
All these sites offer disclaimers and reassurance messages but ultimately the blunt truth of it is if your idea, and indeed your script, is sitting there in the public domain then poaching it is as easy as 1-2-3.
Someone can just read it, grab it, and it’s gone and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it (because you can bet your bottom dollar that the script hosting site states very clearly in their small print that you cannot blame them, or sue them, or even shout at them if an idea goes AWOL in this way).
Ultimately, if you decide to upload your project to one of these sites you really can’t moan when it appears in cinemas a few years later, written by somebody else.
What about The Black List?
The Black List, founded by former executive Franklin Leonard (Leonardo DiCaprio’s co, Will Smith’s co.), is arguably the exception to many of the rules listed above.
Crucially, what it has over all the others, is industry respect.
Seriously big fish have heard of The Black List. Know The Black List. Respect The Black List. So do the staff who work for these big fish.
And this is vital, because without it…what is a script hosting site really selling?
Not much, is the frank answer.
Like it or lump it, The Black List is known.
So whilst TBL hasn’t always covered itself in glory in terms of the quality of its script notes, that’s never been its mission exactly.
Its mission is to allow bona fide industry folk to discover new scripts and talent.
Should writers use script hosting sites, then?
Only if you’ve already written a Winner.
Like, a taste-proof screenplay. You know the type – those that impress, regardless of reader or subject matter or any other external influencing factor.
If you do have that Winner, the type that’s already scored “Recommend” verdicts from a leading script consultant, then a script hosting site might help you.
But if the script isn’t that great, well, you just played the lottery apart from, if you win by some miracle, you get a $1 option offer from Joey straight out of NY Film School, rather than $10m.
Instead: write. And read. And write.
And join a well-put-together writers’ group. And get professional script coverage when the time is right.
And most importantly improve….the fastest route to success is to put together a portfolio of brilliant scripts. Careers can move very very quickly IF and only if, you enter the industry with the right product.
Don’t believe us?
For an inspiring tale on how quickly things can move if you have the right product, read this interview with KILL LIST writer-director Ben Wheatley on how he put together DOWN TERRACE for just $8000, and launched his career in the process…
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