Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lowlights of a Hardworking Unrepped Screenwriter

When the lovely and talented Jeanne Bowerman asked me if I would be interested in sharing some of my wisdom about the last ten years of my screenwriting career, primarily are there any mistakes I have made that I could take back, my first thought was ‘mistakes’?  I can’t really think of any mistakes.  I have made a series of brilliant moves, and now I live in Malibu in a beautiful Oceanside 3-bedroom bungalow, drive a lovely 2010 Lexus 350 and meet with some Fox execs about… okay, well, none of that is real so mistakes, yes, I have probably made a few.

When I think of probably the biggest mistake any writer can make it is the mismanagement of time.  Not necessarily their writing schedule (even though Twitter and Facebook have been known to suck an afternoon away from me without even blinking) but the marketing and pitching of their script.  Now I live nowhere near any of the filmmaking or television hotspots in either the U.S. or Canada, and I have never really had any serious ‘disposable’ income, so really, my only recourse was to send out email queries to anyone I think would be willing to read my script.  Now, as most of you know, the top 5 agencies never read unsolicited queries, and I have a small stack of registered letters with cool CAA and William Morris letterhead, telling me to stop bugging them.  As a desperate and, at the time, inexperienced writer, when it came to the business of screenwriting, I threw up the Hail Marys, sending hopeful queries to literary agencies big and small, huge and mid-sized production companies in both L.A. and New York.  I spent countless hours sending these queries, and the overall result?  Nada, zero, zilch.  It was disparaging but also taught me a serious lesson.

Battered but not beaten, I decided to change tactics a few years ago and as a result have built up a great network of producers and even some strong television contacts.  What was my secret? 

I lowered my expectations.

If you are a Canadian screenwriter living in the middle of nowhere and with no credits to your name but recognized as having at least marginal talent, (my words) then you need to lower expectations.  You need to think to yourself, ‘who will read my script?’ or better still, ‘who will read my script and be able to make it?’  So that is what I did, I shifted my research to find production companies who would be more likely to read the work of an unrepresented writer (in Canada, very few production companies, if you don’t sound like a complete idiot, will need you to send through anything by the way of an agent. Our industry simply isn’t big enough to miss out on strong projects). And, wouldn’t you know it, my read rate jumped up.

Really, dear screenwriter, all I am saying is to learn from my mistakes and don’t waste your time charging that proverbial rainbow.  This isn’t to say you cannot get reputable agencies and production companies to read, but with larger entities, they have a bunch of readers who read a bunch of scripts looking for the next gem. Though you might indeed have that next gem, it is simply too easy for it to get lost in the shuffle.  Find smaller, even locally owned production companies who might want to take on a project such as yours.  Think locally; shoot locally so your project can be shown globally! (I am not apologizing for this shameless paraphrase)  Do your IMDB research!  Find films that are of similar genre and find out who made them.  I have had great success with this.

I could probably write a book or two about how screenwriters old and new could learn from the mistakes I have made to get my projects read, optioned, developed and produced.  We all make mistakes along the way, second-guess our writing, do completely unnecessary rewrites, deal with shady producers, agents and managers and generally feel like our careers have stalled, like nobody will ever read us let alone produce us.  I have felt this way more times than I can count, but instead of tuning my violin and playing dirges deep into the night, I readjusted my tactics.  I have met some small but hungry producers, and if you can arm them with a strong project they are passionate about, you will be surprised how hard they will work to move mountains.

Tim Stubinski is a proud dad, professional smartass, Canadian screenwriter. Co-writer and co-creator of 'Wolf Canyon', probably the funniest show ever involving a fake werewolf.

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