When you’ve spent a long time in a particular profession, it’s hard to ever take that hat off fully. I did twenty years in the field of marketing and now tend to see everything through a marketeer’s eyes. Since then I’ve spent a decade in the world of filmmaking so I’ve naturally become fascinated with the marketing obstacles screenwriters face. I built Script Revolution to help tackle the most fundamental issue of exposure and now I want to talk about another issue few writers seem to be taking seriously, an issue I’m calling “The Gap”.
First of all, I want you to visualise The Gap not as the short leap from the platform of a London Underground station platform into a train carriage but instead something more akin to the gaping chasm the spans the width of the Grand Canyon at its widest point. On the one side, you have a title and logline and, on the other, you have a script. The leap we want industry members to make in the hope we get read is pretty epic and we need to stop underestimating the level of commitment needed because it’s likely holding opportunities back.
Industry members, especially those who’ve been around a long time, generally do not like having to read scripts they know very little about from writers they’ve never heard of and that can be a tough pill for amateur screenwriters to swallow. It doesn’t feel like asking much to expect the likes of a producer or executive who’s seeking out new material to flick through a document that should easily be consumed within the time-frame of watching a feature film but, when you factor in the sheer number of requests are submitted to someone in this position, it’s valuable time that is, more often than not, wasted. And if it’s not time, it’s money in the form passing those scripts onto readers to analyse and report back on.
That’s not time and money wasted because the writing is necessarily bad but for a multitude of alignment issues between the material the industry member’s needs. Issues such as genre, subject, tone, logistical demands, and much much more. There’s few things more frustrating for a producer than sitting down to read a great script and, within thirty pages, realising it’s one you couldn’t possibly make, even if you really want to.
The problem is data. A title and twenty-five-ish word logline, however expressive and detailed, doesn’t give away much information and a jump straight across The Gap means reading, digesting, and reflecting on as much as 120 pages of content just to establish the basics. Would you willingly commit to pausing your life to watch and review a movie you’ve never heard of on the back of a title and tag-line alone?
“Would you like to buy this car?”
“I don’t know anything about it.”
“It’s blue. Should I book you in for a test drive right away?”
This isn’t the 90’s any more where the average screenwriter stood a fighting chance of having a hot script in town everyone’s eager to read. Plus, it gets more of an issue the higher you go in the system as executives within the studios have to triage what’s trying to get into their slush pile and follow the path of least resistance by favouring material and writers they are already familiar with. Indie producers, they’re willing to dig deeper to find an unknown gem, but again, why make their lives any tougher than it needs to be? And what about the next writer who’s competing that bit harder than you to draw people in?
This is the frustration I have; many aspiring screenwriters who are complete unknowns, perhaps most, do not seem to want to address this and get quite pissy and defensive at the suggestion they should. In fact, I’ve seen amateur screenwriters get angry that they have to write even so much as a logline because they find it too hard. These are people who want to be taken seriously as professional writers finding every excuse not to have to write. The best some can muster is to focus on a “high concept” mentality where the resulting logline is hopefully so enticing nobody can resist making a read request. That’s something but it’s still somewhat weak, especially when there are so many other factors that can make a script appealing, such as say requiring a very low budget or targeting an underserved demographic.
Some believe they can query their way out of this with a scatter-gun approach but that’s naive. Querying doesn’t close The Gap in any way at all, it only exasperates the problem. Having a hundred industry members unwilling to make the leap isn’t any better than having ten. That’s just more opportunities lost due to poor preparation. That’s filling the showroom with people and forgetting to send a salesperson.
Those that choose to ignore The Gap and rely on good fortune coming their way are likely going to become increasingly frustrated as they watch others close it unconsciously via factors such as networking, awareness, and nepotism. People will make a leap of faith for some because they like the person and feel they owe them the benefit of the doubt. For those completely cut off from the industry, The Gap is always going to be a much bigger problem.
Then there’s the danger of entering spec writer’s purgatory where a writer options material to a producer who then takes it around town and faces the exact same hurdle, ultimately taking it upon themselves or requesting the writer help them create materials needed to try and close The Gap as the months, or even years, add up. Not a particularly bad problem to have in the big scheme of things but one has to ask, why rely on someone else to do a lot of the leg work you may be able to do yourself, especially if it means they get to take a potentially healthy cut of profit participation and you have to make do with a small writer’s fee? Why take a back seat when there’s so much at stake? Who says you can’t think and act like a producer yourself?
Think an agent can make this hurdle disappear? Perhaps so. A good agent should act like a good salesperson, making a passionate case for your material and bringing some additional weight with their own endorsement. However, we’re back to square one because good agents with a strong reputation are in the same boat as high status producers and execs – utterly inundated with submissions that demand a tremendous amount of reading and reflecting. We may have to accept that even securing representation requires us to address The Gap in a bid to get eyes on pages.
Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves an important question, one that may completely transform our attitude to marketing our wares; do industry members typically buy into scripts or do they really tend to buy into pitches? If so, does having nothing more than a script and a logline leave you pretty much dead in the water?
How the Gap Is Typically Being Closed
By far the most common attempt to close the gap is with validation, traditionally via the likes of competition wins but now also via third-party coverage. The idea here is to bombard the targeted industry member with so much “success” they feel they are being offered the exclusive opportunity to consider a hot script. The problem is, and the reason why I have put success in quotes is that the validation in question may not be as strong as many seemingly think. The prestige of screenwriting competitions drops off fast after the likes of Academy Nicholl and that’s before getting into the different tiers each competition has. Boasting that you’re an “award winning writer” because you’ve placed in the quarter-finals of some unknown fly-by-night festival might actually do more to widen The Gap than narrow it since you now look so naive. There is another significant issue here as well and that’s that competitions tend to only share a list of titles and loglines and thus people are still being forced to read the full script for any kind of details. Coverage providers are a bit of an unknown entity for many at this point too as many new outfits hustle for status and industry members aren’t sure who to trust. They do at least however tend to summarise elements of the script and make an argument for why it’s being considered or recommended. The Black List, in website form, kind of falls between the two with a competition mindset and micro coverage evaluations that specifically give a response to commerciality albeit a brief one. All said and done, all forms of validation via these means suffer from the “subjectivity lottery” issue – so a few anonymous readers with no skin in the game liked your script? Big whoop! Coverfly seems to be the way forward here by aggregating all the data available to find trends and highlight those who are getting consistent results that demonstrate their screenwriting craft. What can close the gap? Perhaps a win in something like Nicholl, a recommend from the likes of ScriptReaderPro, and a few 8’s on the Black List. It’s just a question of how many times you’re prepared to keep rolling the dice, at what cost, until your numbers come up.
Less common but growing in popularity is the detail approach where writers are building their own pitch-decks for film and story-bibles for TV along with look-books for both, quite often because they are now finding some industry members are asking for them upfront. While pitching in detail with elements such as look-books seems like a new concept, it is far from it. Legendary indie producer Ted Hope writes in his book Hope for Film about the first time he saw someone doing this (director Todd Field) around fifteen years ago. What’s been happening is it’s been moving down the development cycle through various roles until its final reached rock bottom – the screenwriter. A good pitch-deck or story-bible, complete with glossy illustrations, a clean layout, and carefully curated visuals of how the finished film could look and feel is powerful, incredibly powerful… when done right. They are however, more often than not, examples of vanity over sanity or so poor quality in their execution they make the script look bad as a result. We’ve all suffered through the experience of bad marketing communications in our lives. Flyers that look homemade, brochures that read like a scam, and websites that feel impenetrable when it comes to getting the information you need. Pitch decks are typically the remit of producers who understand both the market and customer and thus know how to present their wares in a way that draws industry members in, shows them the homework has been done, and gives them the information they need as they need it in a way that feels genuinely passionate. This all highlights a fundamental issue with pitch-decks and look-books – they have to be decoded each time to find the information that matters and that can become exhausting to go through over and over again, especially when important parts turn out to be missing. Most of the industry members I know hate dealing with these materials for this very reason. What can close the gap? Clear and concise pitching materials that feel like they’re coming from someone who understands how the industry works and why audiences engage with film presented with an overall feel of sophistication that elevates the perceived quality of the script can certainly go a long way, provided the concept itself is consciously market orientated in the first place.
Somewhat rare are writers who able to approach the table with the power of intellectual property that’s already has an audience. This is a brute force approach that fills the gap with confidence that the material being proposed has a track record in terms of market appeal (concept) and customer satisfaction (execution). Few writers have this ace-card to play and it typically comes from having a best selling book or graphic novel but can also be the rights to use a well known story or the life of a popular individual. Of course, “best selling”, “well known”, and “popular” are ambiguous and relative terms but anything that moves the needle with the right industry members is going to have some degree of influence. For those without the benefit of existing IP to offer, there is the option to try and make that magic happen by turning scripts into books, comics, web series, and more in the hope some form of media will click with an audience. This however can require a significant investment of time, money, and energy. What can close the gap? Existing IP on a pop-culture level is probably second only to being a screenwriter who’s a household name. In some cases, the industry members being approached may themselves already be very familiar with the material and excited at the prospect of reading a proposed film adaption.
Very rare but getting more common are proof of concepts that effectively allow industry members the opportunity to sample something close to a produced version of the script. While this may sound like a backward way of going about things – why shoot part of a script yourself when you’re trying to convince someone else to produce it? – it can be very powerful. Sitting through less than ten minutes of compelling audio-visual content at their leisure is a relatively small commitment for an industry member that can not only fit around day to day tasks but offer some restpite from them. The proof is indeed in the pudding and an intriguing concept in a captivating world full of fascinating characters engaging in dramatic scenes that hint at a well thought out story all wrapped up with a likeable style and tone is impossible to ignore – just like a teaser trailer can make you want to watch a film you previously had zero interest in. The big factor here, of course, similar to pitch-decks, is execution. This is something that’s very easy to do badly and quite complex to to do competently. You can’t really just grab a few pages from your script and go shoot them with your friends using your iPhone as this may not only look unprofessional but also only serve to confuse the viewer as to what the bigger story’s really about. What can close the gap? Proof of concepts shot from scripts that have been specifically developed to introduce the world, characters, and story with the correct tone through scenes that match the production value of the proposed film as closely as possible are going to have a hugely competitive advantage.
How Script Revolution Is Helping Close The Gap
As a working writer-producer and having now been running Script Revolution for five years, I’ve had the benefit of not only seeing what works for me at an industry level but also seeing what works for others who’ve seen success through the platform I’ve created.
Firstly, Script Revolution is built on the principal of meta-data which means it can help industry members find content that matches their specific needs. This closes the gap somewhat by eliminating concerns with unknowns. After applying the correct filters, a filmmaker who loves the sound of a logline shouldn’t be so worried the script is out of their budgetary and logistical needs and thus have more reason to commit to a read.
Secondly, Script Revolution rewards a professional pitch mindset by elevating scripts with synopses and professional posters images toward the top of listings. This helps close the gap by giving industry members a way to quickly see the look and feel of a script and get an overview of the story that entices them in to read more. Further bolstering this is the fact Script Revolution has always insisted on a twenty-five word minimum bio upon signup which means it can often be selling the writer along with the material. In addition to all this, Script Revolution also allows writers to add videos, pitch-decks, and story-bibles to their listings to help try and sell their vision even further.
Thirdly, Script Revolution helps validate the raw appeal of scripts through its favouriting system and the quality of scripts by linking them to prestigious awards and professional coverage. This helps close the gap by showing a script has built up an audience of fans and/or has been executed well in terms of craft.
But what about those writers with the time, energy, and funds to go a little further and compete even harder? For that, some of Script Revolution’s partners offer answers.
How Script Revolution’s Partners Are Helping Close The Gap
Think IP and Daedalus Films
Both Think IP and Daedalus Films are doing things the traditional way with a twist. Both search through the listings on Script Revolution sourcing material written by Rockstar Members that they feel stands a good chance of securing funding from their network of financiers. Both also create pitch deck materials to help sell the concept with Think IP doing it in the typical print/presentation way and Daedalus Films creating one page online showcases viewed via their website. In the case of Daedalus Films, they also offer the writer the opportunity to use their production crew resources at a discount rate should they get a green light via their platform.
Built to address the needs of the studio system and stemming from members within it, ScriptHop offers a platform that not only standardises how the pitch materials are organised but also presents that in a way that’s easy to digest, track, and extract the value from. Their “Packet” system, facilitated by cutting edge AI, not only does the hard work of breaking down scripts to their barebone fundamentals but also guides users through all the script related elements they should be collating, such as short and long synopses along with cast suggestions, location descriptions, commercial arguments, and much more. The result is ultimately a pitch-deck-esc alternative that focuses clearly on what matters and doesn’t need decoding to fully appreciate. Script Revolution members can add ScriptHop packet links directly into their listings to enhance their offering.
Get It Made X
Tackling the proof-of-concept world, Get It Made X takes writers on a journey where they are nurtured by experienced industry members within a strong community to help them take their material and develop it to the standard studios and networks want to see. Adopting a sort of boot-camp attitude, but much friendlier and through the comfort of a bespoke app, writers go through the process of mentorship, peer-review, and group events, all while engaging to support one another on a daily basis, with the intent to create a top-tier proof-of-concept film and associated pitch materials that can be presented to key decision makers without any concern of looking cheap or second rate. Script Revolution is working with Get It Made X to help Rockstar Members with the most potential embrace the collaborative producer mindset needed to take their material to the next level.