Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Bullitt" screenwriter Alan Trustman sells his unproduced specs on Amazon.com

UPDATE: 7:30am PST - That didn't take long!  Alan Trustman replied in comments.  His comment and my reply have been added to this post.

Over the years I've seen a number of strange and desperate ways that people have advertised their screenplays.  Some opt for spamming, some set up websites for their scripts, and other shoot short films promoting their work.  Tuesday's Variety featured a method that surprised even me.  Screenwriter Alan Trustman took out a quarter-page ad which - even considering the hard times that the print industry has fallen on - couldn't have been cheap.

The headline blared "SIX GREAT UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAYS" and a full scan of the ad follows:

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14 paragraphs and 673 words in all.  I'm not retyping all of that.  Frankly, with all that text, the writer is lucky I read all of that.  That's actually a big issue I have with this ad - it's a mountain of text.  There's nothing to really catch the eye or entice someone to read it all.  He even buries the lead, for it takes him until the third paragraph to get to the real point of his message.

"Many years ago, I started at the top, writing two classic movies, thanks to a brilliant agent, a dynamite producer, and a major star who understood that I understtod him.  I had it, really them, all, - and then I didn't.  Thereafter I had a couple of other screenplays produced and left the business.


"In subsequent years, from time to time I wrote an additional nine screenplays, but I never became a participating member of the Hollywood community, and was unable to sell screenplays from a home 3,000 miles away, without an agent, manager producer or star."

Though the ad doesn't name those "classic movies," it's signed "Alan Trustman," who is the 80 year-old screenwriter behind Bullitt and The Thomas Crowne Affair.  According to this NY Post article, Trustman was once the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood, having sold Bullitt for $1 million in 1968.  He claims to have written that entire script in one day.

There's also an interesting quote from Trustman, "The number of people in the industry who can read a script and picture the movie is very, very small," he says.  I've not met more than ten of them in all my years."

And that's why I struggle to understand what Trustman hopes to achieve with his ad.  As he informs us "I have decided to publish my best six unproduced screenplays on Amazon and advertise them in VARIETY, the NEW YORK TIMES SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW, and on the internet."

If I didn't know that Trustman had such a notable career, I would have written this ad off as the work of a rank, naive amateur.  I don't understand why anyone would believe there was any kind of market for an unpublished screenplay.  Trustman himself says that few people can read a script and picture the movie - so why does he believe someone would pay $9.99 for one of his scripts?  I'd wager he probably spent more on the ad than he'll make on those book/screenplay sales.

If he's trying to get attention in the hopes some producer will buy those scripts, the ad is a poor marketing tool.  It's wordy and the six pitches he includes are hardly enticing.  They're not loglines so much as weak teasers like:

"THE JUDAS PROPHECY is a novelized screenplay.  Does anyone want to make a good commercial Dan Brown style movie?"

and

"TWENTY-TWO LOVERS is the love story of a detective and a talented woman whose lives intersect early but do not meet in person until the very end of the movie.  Again, who has the courage to play the lady?"

With respect to Mr. Trustman, if those loglines were part of a query letter, I can't see many people requesting to read the script for free.  I'm not going to spend 2/3 of the price of a movie ticket on any of those scripts.  And frankly, it seems like Trustman would be smart enough to figure this out too.

If there's one thing that aspiring screenwriters can take from this it's that this business is rough.  A writer with two classic movies and the largest writing paycheck of the time still saw his career fall on hard times.  A man with his experience should probably know better than to expect an ad like this to do anything for his career or his income.  If he was just out to educate, or merely wanted his words to find an audience, he'd probably put his scripts on a website and offer them for free - so that leads me to believe that this is an action taken out of desperation - a last resort.

I wouldn't suggest any screenwriters emulate Trustman's ad if they want to get their scripts read... but then again, he got me to write an entire blog post about it, so maybe he knows what he's doing.

UPDATE: Alan Trustman commented below.  Since some of you don't read comments, I thought it wise to add his to the original post.

Great blog! I loved it!

Why the ad?

Because this fat lady decided to sing.

The scripts are good, probably better than good, and there are people out there looking for money-maker movie movies. If somebody bites, great! If not, I have had the fun of saying what I had to say.

And you’re absolutely right about the pitches. I never could write pitches and I never could pitch.

If you send me your address, I’ll send you the books, and you can then write another blog savaging the scripts! 

My reply:  Thanks for the quick response, sir, and I'm glad you enjoyed the blog.  I know that my free time being what it is, I can't find room to read and review six scripts on the side.  In fact, there's ONE "favor" script that I've managed to not get the time to read across a couple months!

But I am intrigued to check out perhaps one of them.  I'm leaning towards THE JUDAS PROPHECY, as it sounds like the most exciting and marketable of the six based on that logline.  Let's open it up to a little debate.  Readers, which one would you read and why?

7 comments:

  1. Weird. Makes me also wonder if someone stole is scripts and trying to make a fast buck? Doubtful, but would be intriguing. Someone should write a script based on it. Hmmm...where did I put my pencil?

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  2. I'm not so sure his hustle is all that crazy. As you said, he got you to write about him.

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  3. Great blog! I loved it!

    Why the ad?

    Because this fat lady decided to sing.

    The scripts are good, probably better than good, and there are people out there looking for money-maker movie movies. If somebody bites, great! If not, I have had the fun of saying what I had to say.

    And you’re absolutely right about the pitches. I never could write pitches and I never could pitch.

    If you send me your address, I’ll send you the books, and you can then write another blog savaging the scripts!

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  4. I'm kind of interested in THE ONLY WAY. Not because of the log (I find it kind of confusing) but because of the idea of a murder hero, who sees killing someone's wife as THE ONLY WAY. That's pretty neat.

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  5. I'm interested in all of them to be frank - this is the man who wrote Bullitt and The Thomas Crowne Affair, I'll be interested if he writes a Paris Hilton movie.

    This ad simply can't be written off 'as the work of a rank, naive amateur', because as all us unproduced writers know, every attempt for recognition is utterly amateurish unless it leads to pay, every advertisement of talent must follow the 'rules' until something new comes along that doesn't, and succeeds.

    Here we have a man who has written two of the greatest action films EVER, and he's trying a new route to production. And he's got one of the most popular film blogs to remind us of his talents, and a previously firm stoic to wax lyrical on his brilliance like a teenage fanboy. So good for him I say.

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  6. MrSmith, you flatter me with your "one of the most popular film blogs" flattery (unless that was your way of saying that Scott Myers had picked up the story.)

    I've given this some thought and here's how I'll likely proceed with this. Alan has put a copy of THE JUDAS PROPHECY in the mail for me. Of the offered scripts, I chose that one in part because the pitch was the most intriguing - but also because it most closely matched the genres that a few companies I read for make.

    Hopefully I'll have a review up the week after Thanksgiving. I'm not going to post full coverage. First, that would make the entry rather long, and if there's one thing I've learned it's that you folks tend to tune out the longer post.

    Also, I have to admit I'd feel odd offering a full and complete synopsis of something that the author is currently offering for sale. Mostly, it just feels right for me to treat this like a review rather than an "official" submission.

    That's not to say I won't hold it to the same standard as any other script I'd read professionally. I'm not worried about hurting Alan's feelings - someone in the business as long as he was has probably developed a pretty thick skin. I can promise that I'll be fair and frank.

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  7. I second the notion. I'll read ANYTHING this guy wrote.

    Steve McQueen "got" his writing and I do too. Those two movies have never been matched.

    Mister Trustman is a National Treasure.

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