ATQ18: How soon should I chase after submitting a script?

How soon should I chase after submitting a script?

I have written a screenplay that should fit in perfectly with the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and have tried phone and written queries. Steel wall! Should I try a more flamboyant, attention-getting approach? It’s been six months with no response.

Matt
Screenwriter

 

Hi Matt,

Great question – I know this is so relevant for so many writers.  

I’m going to ignore the Marvel aspects of that, and the whole question of whether it’s good policy to write spec scripts using other peoples’ characters (basically, in the UK it’s not.)

I actually think you’re asking a wider question – “how hard should I follow up after submitting a script?”

Well. After a cold submission like yours, my recommendation here in the UK would be to wait about six to eight weeks, and then try a gentle email reminder.

I’d then wait another month or two, and try once more, also via email.

After that , maybe one more reminder after three months, but basically I’d consider the approach in hibernation, possibly dead, and move on. 

I’d absolutely never hassle via phone.

That seems fairly lame. Why on earth would I give up so easily?

The reality

Everyone whose job it is in the industry to read scripts has a pile of scripts a metaphorical yard high. 

The pile is a constant, nagging pressure, even leading to a constant, low-level guilt in the more conscientious.

The last thing you need to do is to needle a guilty person.

Sure, you may just get lucky and press just the right button so they pull your script out the pile and read it, but they’ll probably hate you just a little bit for it.

Not good.

What’s more, and I’ll be really frank here. Nothing personal, but most people in the UK industry would shy away from writers who make a phone call to see if their work has been read. 

A call like that marks you out as a beginner, and a needy beginner at that, and someone who doesn’t get the way the game is played. 

It’s not rational – after all, how CAN you know the way the game is played when you’re just starting out, and I’m sorry that’s the way it works – but in my experience, that is definitely the way it works.

People feel pressured enough about not reading your script – a writer they don’t know calling them to chase can only inflame the situation.

So I recommend you leave the wheels of the system to grind on their own.

There seems to be a six to eight week reading cycle in most places. And your script will probably (not always!) get read in the end, just much more slowly than you would like.

Ok. So that’s pretty passive advice. But then it gets worse… ?

What happens when they do read it?

If they are a script reader they will have to write a report; a script editor or above will get back to the agent directly.

Either way it involves more work, and time, and it’s never easy to turn people down.

So if it’s a ‘no”, or a ‘meh’, then it can take even more weeks for this to happen.

And this NO may never actually happen. Some people are on the lazy end, or really hate saying no, and the script just sits there in some computer folder, or in a pile that gets sent to the recycler when they change jobs.

Thoughtless, and rude? Definitely. But that’s the reality. It’s just human nature.

Crucually, if it’s a ‘YES’ then they’ll either pass the report up the chain to their boss (if they’re a reader), or get in contact with you. Either way that’s going to happen pretty fast.

You read very few scripts that get you excited – so when you do, you DO something about it!

So, once you have sent your script in cold, you need to sit back, forget about it, write something else, send one or two reminders down the line, and basically move on.

If they like it, you’ll know about it, don’t worry.

The better way

However, this ignores the fact that it’s pretty bad idea to send it in cold like this in the first place.

It’s all about something marketing types call ‘pre-framing’.

There is a hierarchy at work here, and the further you ascend it the more likely you are to get a positive read of your script.

Here’s a rough sketch, low status to high status, of how a script can arrive on a desk. The further down the list you get, the more likely that reader is to rush to read it.

  • Script submitted cold by an unknown writer.
  • Script submitted cold by a writer whose name that reader has noticed but has never read.
  • Script submitted cold by a writer who everyone seems to be talking about but they have never read.
  • Script submitted with a firm recommendation by someone in the industry (other successful writer, producer, script agent, agent etc).
  • Script submitted with a firm recommendation by someone in the industry they know.
  • Script submitted with a firm recommendation by someone they know and whose opinion they trust.
  • Script submitted by a writer whose work they already know and love.
  • Script submitted by a writer whose work they love and with whom they have had development discussions about this very script.

You want to get your script read? Then your job is to use all the social and media and people skills in your possession to get yourself as high up that hierarchy as you can.

Should you send scripts out cold? Well, sure, why not. But see it on par with buying lottery tickets.

Should you work on understanding the industry, making connections, getting your name out there, taking meetings, generally getting round – and making sure that you are in a position to give your script directly to someone who actually actively wants to read it? Very definitely. 

Goldmine help

For those of you who ARE interested in opening doors and working your way up the ladder here in the UK, we have launched a new newsletter (called ‘Open Door‘!).

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s a monthly round up of the opportunities for writers in the UK market, plus pieces aimed at demystifying the whole thing.

It has articles like the above, plus pieces on networking, more realities of the commissioning process, how to handle yourself in meetings, recent greenlights, interviews with producers and script editors, and so on.  

My aim is to make it up to the minute, behind the scenes, and realistic. Just like today’s ATQ, my goal is to shed a little light on the way things really operate.

This kind of information should help you get to grips with the game, and help you get yourself up that hierarchy above.

Read more about Open Door.

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