Sceptical of Script Hosting Sites
“I’ve barely got enough time for my existing clients, let alone trawling around websites looking for more” – Prominent UK lit agent.
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, once-a-month, details about our most promising clients’ scripts to a list of almost 800 bona fide industry execs, agents and producers. Not just anyone can have their details marketed, either – our consultant 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 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.
- 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 innings 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 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 a month. 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.
Here’s 6 reasons why aspiring screenwriters should tread very, very carefully when dealing with all script hosting/promotion websites.
1. The Industry Doesn’t Have Time For It. Full stop.
“I’ve barely got enough time for my existing clients, let alone trawling around websites looking for more” – prominent UK lit agent. This is not a golden age for screenwriters – the massive, and multiple spec sales of the 90s are now but a distant memory. There’s just less cash sloshing around the entire industry (piracy, death of DVD), full-stop, and this has had a massive knock-on effect in terms of the money and volume of jobs available to screenwriters. In turn, this has had a knock-on effect on the volume of work agents are having to do to engineer gigs for their clients. Harder-working agents can only be a good thing, right? Not if you’re a new writer trying to break in, it isn’t. Some script hosting/introduction/promotion 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, Cannes 2014
2. “Speed of the Puma!”: The Old Fashioned Ways Die Hard
“Film”, a learned Development Executive this scribe 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 mates 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. One, maybe two sites in America have made a genuine go of it over a 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 CAA 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 2000 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!
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 mate 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 should writers do then?
Write. And read. And write. And join a well-put-together writers’ group. And get professional notes 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 Evening Standard interview with KILL LIST writer-director Ben Wheatley on how he put together DOWN TERRACE for just £6000, and launched his career in the process…