Monday, July 11, 2011

Reader question - If given the chance, should I proposition an actor with my script?

I've been sitting on this email for a couple months now, so I should probably just get to it:

I just found your blog about a week ago and have DEVOURED have some good stuff on there. I really enjoyed reading the cliché series.

So, it got me thinking about a few questions I didn't see on your blog that I thought you might be able to answer.

And at the risk of sounding like the amateur that I am, I'll go for it and ask...

If I ever got the chance to ask a actor/actress if they'd be interested in reading one of my scripts should I or would that be a big no-no?

Or instead of asking them to read the whole script should I ask if I could send a query to their agent?

Also, should I have an agent before I do that? Or wait until the actor/actress gets back saying that they loved or hated it and be able to put that on my query letter to agents if it was positive feedback?

I haven't had the opportunity to meet anybody but, I wanted to be prepared and know what I could do if I did.

Very complicated question, and one that's going to run up against a lot of variables. I'll do my best to account for everything.

Let's first address an important fact - there are very few actors with the power to get a film made just by being attached to it. So if you're at a party and happen to bump into, say, Treat Williams, don't kick yourself later for not giving him your script. I'm not saying that a working actor can't be a good connection, but you definitely want to temper your expectations.

Important fact #2 - asking someone to read your script is a big deal. It's true of asking working screenwriters, and it's equally true of asking actors. It's not something I'd usually feel comfortable asking someone who I just met. I was recently at a party where I met a couple actors whom I've been watching on TV for a decade or so. I even managed to strike up a pretty good repor with one of them and we had a good conversation about movies, TV, the business, life in general... but at no point did it ever cross my mind that it'd be a good idea to push my script on him.

If possible, you can put it out there that you're a writer. It's bound to come up in conversation, and usually the person you're talking to will likely ask not only what you do, but what kinds of stuff you write as well. This is your chance - be able to sum up the script succinctly:

"It's about a cop who has to save people from a bus that will explode if it goes under 50 mph."

"It's about a police chief on Martha's Vineyard who's faced with stopping a man-eating shark from killing the beachgoers on the biggest tourist weekend of the year."

"It's about a killing machine from the future who comes back in time to murder the mother of the leader of the resistance against it before he's even born."

If possible, tell the concept in a way that makes the lead role appealing - play to the actor's vanity.

If you're really lucky, maybe, MAYBE they'll say that sounds cool and they'd like to read it. If you can, get their email address. If not, get the name of their agent and that contact info. Send it to them with a polite note saying you'd love to hear what they think of it. Then - leave them alone for a month, if not more. It takes people a long time to get to other people's scripts.

The key thing here is not to come off too pushy. Put the info out there and let them make the move. I don't think it's necessary to have an agent to play it like that. Now, there's always a chance that you meet Anne Hathaway at a party and she just happens to be great for your script. If you talk her up and she likes the idea, you could always say, "If you're really interested, I could have my agent send it to your agent."

That at least shows you're professional enough to have an agent. However, it also means that you've just added at least two intermediaries before it gets to Anne. It goes to her agent, who sends it to their assistant and possibly an agency reader. Being vetted through those people means you've got to impress two, perhaps three people before Anne gets it. That's why I favor the "I could send it to you if you like," and see if you can finagle a direct contact. More than likely, you'll still be referred to the agent.

By the way, this procedure is pretty much the safe way to handle making any Hollywood contact at a party or public event. Managers, agents, writers, directors and assistants all fall into this category. Bear in mind that ALL of these people probably have someone trying to read their work on a daily basis. Make sure you've made a good impression. If you come out the gate with "Will you read my script?" you'll more likely get a polite decline.

As for if actor interest can help you get an agent by noting said interest on a query letter, I really couldn't say. Unless you can say something like, "Ted Danson really liked my TV pilot" or "Robert Downey Jr. dug my script," the notation that an actor liked your script isn't likely to impress. (And in the above examples, the person receiving the query might think, "Well, if Danson's so high on it, why isn't this referral coming from him?")

Every connection helps, but I'd say this is one of the less likely ways you'll get traction for your script. Having said that, if anyone is in a position to prove me wrong, I'd love to hear their story.


  1. I agree with what you've said here. Definitely get the screenplay into the hands of the actor, if you have a choice. Giving it to an agent has less chance of success in reaching the actor. Unless you've built up rapport with the agent. :-)

    I'd also suggest that rather than asking a Yes or No question like: "Will you read my script?" you say something more like: "I would be so honored if you'd read even the first act/scene/5 pages."

    After all, if your script is any good, it'll show in those first 5 pages.

    Dare to Dream...and Dream BIG! Like everything else in the writing biz, this is a numbers game. You have to go through some Nos to get to a Yes. But you'll never get the Yes if you don't take a chance.

    Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
    bestselling author

    P.S. I also co-wrote a screenplay for WHALE SONG, one of my novels, which has had some movie interest but no deal yet. :-)

  2. I will share my story of getting an actress to read a script. It doesn't have a big money ending but it is interesting.
    I saw on the local TV news one night that a young actress who I'd admired in an indie film worked near where I lived. A few days later, I went to her job and introduced myself and told her about my idea for a TV pilot. She was very nice and told me to keep in touch and let her know when I'd finished. (niceness is probably in inverse proportion to their celebrity ranking!)
    A year later, I contacted her via her manager and sent the script.
    She LOVED it....wrote me a glowing email and then...(here's the best part) she pitched it to an exec at FOX who asked to read it. Execs being inherently evil...this took forever. But, that exec did read it 6 months later and actually met with me to give me notes.
    So...that's my script-to-actress-story. Replicate at your peril. (p.s. the script should be kick-azz!And no, I don't have any credits, just lots of moxie and belief in my own talent)

  3. Good advice, Cheryl!

    Script Tease - Very nice story. The only thing I'd dispute is the "Niceness is probably in inverse proportion to their celebrity ranking." There are plenty of VERY famous actors and actresses who are incredibly nice people, and some C and D listers who are complete jerks. Most of the time, assuming you approach them under the right circumstances (i.e. NOT when they're with their kids at a playground or trying to enjoy brunch with their family) you'll find most actors to be affable.

  4. Let's put a twist on this one. What if you are related to the actor who you want to pitch a script to? And say you've never met the actor, but share the same unusual last name and get the question every week, "are you related to ...?"

    I'm writing a script with this person in mind. When completed, I plan on contacting, not him, but his agent's assistant, assuming I won't be able to get in touch with the actual agent, and identifying myself, last name included, and giving her the one - sentence pitch. I'll tell her I wrote it for him. He's not that big anymore and I'm sure he isn't getting many scripts that were wrote for especially for him.

    I figure this is my best contact and I would be an idiot if I didn't try to use it. Unfortunately, I don't live in Cali so I can't do anything in person.

    I guess the worst that could happen is I hear a no, wink wink Cheryl ...

  5. When I write, I always base my major characters on real-world actors, because it helps with the dialogue, and the rest, if you can hear and see them in your head.

    Presuming, for the sake of argument, that my scripts are good, I wonder what to do if I met one of those actors (or someone close).

    There's one thing the original post missed, which is that actors are *desperate* for great material, and the chance to stretch a little.