Screenwriters are a desperate bunch. This isn’t meant to be a derogatory statement by any means—it’s just the truth.
You face seemingly endless barrages of rejection, disappointment and despair when it comes to your screenplays, attempting to get them read, optioned, purchased or showcased as samples for professional writing assignments.
When you finally do manage to make a Hollywood connection, it’s tempting to act in desperation because you feel the need to take advantage of such an opportunity quickly, before it disappears.
As in any walk of life, desperation makes people do silly things. And if those things aren’t outright silly, they’re ill-advised for any number of reasons.
Here we will showcase 11 ways to avoid annoying—and thus scaring away—potential Hollywood contacts that could make or break your dream of becoming a professional screenwriter. These are annoyances that are common in the film and television industry when dealing with novice screenwriters, so consider this an ultimate guide into what not to do.
1. Avoid Cornering Hollywood Panelists at Writing Conferences, Screenwriting Panels and Seminars, and Film Festivals
We cover this in the post “How to Network & Pitch at Pitch Fests, Film Festivals, and Industry Events.”
When you attend such events, you’ll often see attendees waiting in the wings after Hollywood insiders finish their presentations or panels. This is one of the most annoying factors of speaking at such events. It’s not that they don’t want to help people—they’re often very approachable—however, after they’ve talked for an hour or more and likely answered questions through the Q&A portion of the event, they really need their space to decompress and perhaps grab a bite to eat, talk with their peers, make some calls, answer some emails and even go to the bathroom.
Try not to be part of the group that corners them like that. Instead, be the one that casually approaches them during the happy hour afterwards. Be the one that offers to buy them a drink to thank them for their time. Be the one that passes by them in the hall and quickly thanks them for their time and information.
You can use such opportunities to get one-on-one time with them and hope that they might instigate some casual conversation. And if they don’t, just move on with a smile and await the next opportunity. You can always use that single, brief moment as an “in” to approach them through email later on.
Put yourself in their position. They’ve come to these places to share their knowledge in organized events, only to be bombarded by people waiting in the wings with business cards, pitches and sometimes even scripts, after those events. By the end of the night or weekend, do you honestly think that they’ll have time to get to each and every one—if any—for a follow-up? They’ve already done their good deed by showing up and sharing.
It’s only natural for screenwriters to want to try and take that opportunity to get face time with such insiders; however, it only leads to annoyances.
2. Avoid Cyber-Stalking Hollywood Insiders
Perhaps you met them briefly at an event, or even had a “long” conversation with them. Perhaps they’ve answered your query email. Whatever the situation may be, you have to remember that boundaries are still in place. While you may be excited and thrilled, it’s just another connection—minor or major—for them. You’re not best friends.
First and foremost, don’t Facebook friend-request them. This is the most common annoyance that Hollywood insiders are forced to deal with. While big movie stars often have fan pages or profiles on Facebook, most insiders—development executives, managers, agents, producers, etc.—don’t. These are their personal Facebook pages that you’ve tracked down. They have their friends and families on there. They share personal pictures and moments. When you friend-request them, you’re violating a boundary. If you did have any chance to get your scripts read and considered by them, it’s likely gone once you Facebook-stalk them.
Twitter is more forgivable, as far as you following them. However, if you make the mistakes that many do by direct-messaging them, constantly retweeting their tweets with comments of your own directly addressing them, or posting your own tweets with their Twitter handle attached, you’re causing major annoyances that will close any door that may have been opened.
Be like the Fonz. Be cool.
3. Avoid Sending Them Multiple Scripts
This is a common mistake that even the best of screenwriters often make.
You’ve made a connection. You’ve defied the odds and have had someone in the industry actually offer to read your work. So what do you?
You get excited and send them two, three or maybe four scripts. You do this because you don’t know which is your strongest work. You also do this because you maybe want to showcase that you do have a lot of work to offer. However, it does you no good to push multiple scripts to them and will hurt you in the long run.
One script takes roughly two hours to read how you would like it to be read. Tack on some time to reflect on it, write notes, and now you’re talking about three hours per script. Now multiply that by two, three, four or more.
You have to realize that these people have lives. They likely have busy work schedules, perhaps writing of their own to do if they’re successful screenwriters, and don’t forget that they likely also have families.
You, the screenwriter, need to decide which script best embodies your talents, as well as the specific genres that the Hollywood contact would likely be most interested in.
If they want to read more, they’ll ask for more. Just know your work and be ready to decide which script is best for any given situation.
4. Avoid Sending Constant Emails and Requests for Updates
Hollywood may seem fast-paced, but it moves at a turtle’s speed.
Once you send that script—again, one script—it’s going to take some time for them to get to it. Unless they have gone apeshit over your initial pitch or logline, your script will be at the bottom of the stack of other scripts they have to read that week or month.
A majority of the time, two weeks would be a very fast turnaround. Three to four weeks is most likely the benchmark. Sometimes it goes beyond that. So avoid emailing them for updates. If you haven’t heard from them in three weeks, then you can drop them a quick email.
Ken here. Just wondering if you had a chance to take a look at my Goonies 2 script that you requested. It’s a great read. No worries if you haven’t gotten to it yet. I know you’re busy. Just checking in. Hope the week is going well.
That’s all you need to write. Keep it short, sweet and polite.
If you have attained a manager or agent and they’ve taken your script out to studios and producers, same thing. Don’t annoy your new manager or agent with emails every other day, asking if anyone has responded. Once your manager or agent has taken something out, it will takes weeks for studio readers, development executives and producers to finally get to it amidst the array of other scripts they have to read.
Be patient. Waiting to hear back is often a months long affair.
5. Avoid Making Jokes at Your Own Expense
This is a strange yet all-too-common practice by novice screenwriters. Whether they do so within a query email, a pitch, or brief face-to-face encounter, novice screenwriters often resort to bad comedy—much of which is at their own expense.
They will joke about how newbie they are. They will joke about how they’re not Quentin Tarantino or Diablo Cody. They’ll joke about how bad they are at pitching or writing loglines and they’ll apologize for it.
This does nothing for you, the screenwriter.
First of all, they know all of that already without you having to back that observation up.
Secondly, you’re making them feel very uncomfortable by putting them into a position where they may feel the need to conjure some nice things to say in order to make you feel better about yourself.
Either way, it comes off as very amateurish. Professional screenwriters are confident in their abilities. These people want to work with someone that can go into a room and exude confidence in their work.
What they don’t want is to have their time wasted by bad jokes, pity parties or having to boost a screenwriter’s confidence.
6. Avoid Telling Your Sob Stories or Sharing Your Love of Film and Television
“I’ve wanted to tell stories my whole life…”
“Since I was a kid, I’ve loved movies…”
“I’ve tried and tried to make this dream come true…”
If you’re trying to pull at their heart strings, it’s a pretty manipulative move that will do you no good.
And you know what? They work in the film and television industry. They’ve likely wanted to tell stories their whole life. They’ve loved movies since they were kids. They’ve tried and tried to make their dream come true until they finally caught their break.
Who do you think they’ll want to work with most? The dreamer who keeps dreaming of the dream or the screenwriter that is hell-bent on getting to work?
7. Avoid Having an Ego
Confidence is not ego. Many a screenwriter has made that mistake and quickly paid the price. They’re now sipping cocktails at the bar telling stories about how hard it is in Hollywood.
You have to remember that you’re not the second coming of Tarantino, Sorkin, Cody, Meyers, Black or any other iconic screenwriter. Presenting an egotistical attitude does not make you a great screenwriter. Only great scripts do that.
Even if you have the work to back it up, an ego means nothing more than:
- “Difficult to work with”
- “Won’t accept notes”
- “Probably best to go with the nice and appreciative screenwriter we met with yesterday”
8. Avoid Advising Hollywood Contacts About Their Own Industry
“Hollywood could use something like this right now.”
“This genre is really hot.”
“X movie made X amount of money.”
“Studios really want…”
Avoid offering your own assumptions when talking about the needs and the wants of the very industry that your well-connected contacts work in. They know it better than you.
Even if what you are saying is true, you’re telling them something that they already know. Furthermore, you likely only know half of the truth of any given topic anyway while they know the big picture—and your information is likely dated.
They know their own industry. They are living and breathing it 16 hours a day or more.
9. Avoid Overstaying Your Welcome
They’ve read your script, they’ve offered their feedback and they’ve given you some career advice. Too many screenwriters take advantage of that Hollywood contact they’ve made and exploit it. They send every screenplay draft their way. They email them constantly, asking for advice on this situation or that.
The first hint that a Hollywood contact has done all they can—or want—for you is when they wish you “good luck” at the end of an email. Any variation of something that denotes they won’t be talking to you any time soon is essentially a goodbye. If they thought that what you had—script or talent—was worthy of something more in the context of their situation, they would have told you and pursued something more.
Don’t keep emailing them if they aren’t emailing you. Be thankful that they helped you as much or as little as they did and move on. If anything, you can always reconnect with them when you have a new script that they haven’t heard about from you, as long as some time has passed.
Hearing from you once every few months is perfectly fine. Hearing from you once every week isn’t.
10. Avoid Bringing Up the Past
We covered this in the post “9 Screenwriting Truths I Learned the Hard Way in Hollywood.”
There’s an old saying: “What’s done is done.”
If your Hollywood contact has read a script and passed, it’s dead. No matter how many drafts you write. If they loved the concept enough, they would have developed it with you.
If you’re trying to get a manager or agent and you’re pitching them the success of a script that got you a lot of meetings from a few years back, you’re basically saying to them, “No one wanted to make that script.” That’s not an exciting way to pitch yourself.
Sure, every studio passed on Star Wars initially, but you’re missing the point. When a script goes out and fails to garner any deal, that script is still in the system of each and every studio, agency and management company that it went out to. When they see it come up after you pitch it again, they’ll be seeing the constant rejection. It’s dead.
Always think about the present and the future: what great script you’ve just written and what great script you’re currently developing. This portrays you as someone that is working hard at their craft, as opposed to someone that is living in the past and boasting about their glory days.
11. Avoid Showcasing Any Form of Entitlement
It’s mind-blowing when some screenwriters feel that they are entitled to something from Hollywood insiders.
Some may feel that they deserve notice because they are friends of a Hollywood contact’s friends or family. Others may feel that they’re entitled to a script read because the insiders are from their school, city or state.
When a novice screenwriter feels this entitlement, it comes off strong in query emails and discussions. It’s almost as if because of those relationships, no matter how many times removed, the screenwriters should have special treatment and consideration.
In the end, it’s off-putting to the Hollywood insider. It’s uncomfortable. And they are often less likely to help.
No screenwriter is entitled to anything. In fact, no one trying to make any dream come true is entitled to it. You have to do the work. You have to earn considerations. If you pitch to a friend of a friend that works in the industry and they don’t respond to the pitch, then you need to learn from it, adapt as necessary, and move on when it’s clear that the contact is not reciprocating.
Sure, there’s truth to the “it’s who you know” mantra. However, that’s only a piece of the big puzzle. You need to have the skills, the talent, the concepts and especially the amazing scripts to be “entitled” to anything.
We all make mistakes. All screenwriters are guilty of the above annoyances at one time or another. There’s no shame in it. There’s only shame when you’ve learned the consequences—or read a list of them like the above—and still continue to do these things.
Hollywood isn’t just about who you know. It’s about relationships. If you’re overstepping your boundaries and annoying the contacts that you’ve made, you’re not seizing the moment—you’re burning bridges instead of building them. MM
This post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraft. ScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.