Monday, July 19, 2010

Reader mail - Should my script have its own website?

Ron asks:

What do you think of those personal web sites a writer creates to market their screenplay? Does it scream "amateur"? I know a writer has to do all they can to get their work read, but do you think that it might have a negative connotation in a producer's (or whoever's) mind? That the thinking might be the writing should be good enough to stand on its own, that it shouldn't need a slick web site to get attention?

I'm not aware of any rule about this, or even industry conventional wisdom - but I tend to think it's cheesy and screams "amateur" at the top of its lungs. I've seen, well, a LOT of these sites and not once have I ever been impressed. Not once have I ever felt it ever does anything to cast the writer or his work in a good light.

With short films and webseries, I totally get why they merit websites of their own. That's content. They're brief 1-5 minute bits of entertainment that have a shot at going viral and being discovered by "average Joes." If your short or webseries gets a big enough following, maybe you'll be lucky enough to attract the attention of some development folk or managers and get a meeting. It's happened quite a few times before.

Maybe these screenwriters with websites think that this is their way to land on some producer or agents radar. After all, if it works for web shorts, why not for scripts? I'll tell you why - scripts will never go viral. You're not going to get a massive following of people downloading your script, reading all 120 pages, and then passing it around to all their friends. With viral videos, it's just as much about your following as it is your content. That's how managers and development execs weed out the material that's worth their time. They don't blindly troll the internet and check out just any site - they look for the sites and the videos with the largest audiences.

The other drawback of these sites is that they give WAY too much information about the writer. If a writer has an interesting background - say he spent 100 days as a hostage in the Iraq War - then maybe your bio is relevant. But I don't need to know you grew up in Altuna, that you met your wife in third grade, that you have two lovely kids, one of which is your beloved dog. That tells me nothing about why you are a writer worth paying attention to.

And then there are some guys who list anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen completed screenplays on their website. That's a huge red flag. There's a reason why when you query you really only should push one project at a time. If you say you have ten scripts, most agents will immediately wonder "If this guy's so good, and all of these scripts are strong, why have NONE of them found representation yet?" Some agents also say that pushing multiple projects can show that you can't distinguish your strongest writing from your weakest writing.

Don't try to sell an agent on all your scripts - sell him on the right script.

The way I see it, a website for your screenplay offers no benefits and only drawbacks. No agent is going to troll the web looking for new clients. Any agent that looks up your website is probably doing so only after looking at your query letter. At that point, your victory is getting him interested via your query. Your website can only give him a reason not to request the script.

I'd love to hear from people with contrary views, if you feel there's something obvious that I haven't considered.


  1. And then there are some guys who list anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen completed screenplays on their website. That's a huge red flag.

    What about incomplete projects? I place a list of things I'm working on in my blog's sidebar, because I mention them frequently in my posts. Does this make me look unfocussed?

    Not that I'm expecting an executive producer to wander by and snap me up. More because, if I submit something, someone might stick my name into Google.

  2. get your own website and talk about YOURSELF as a writer, artist, filmmaker, whatever you have done that is relevant to the film industry.

    also, it's a bad idea to post your script online if you're trying to sell it. It screams DESPERATE. and of course, someone out there might steal your ideas, characters, and/or plotline(s).

    if you have your own website, you should mention that you have written a script and it's available "upon request."

  3. Rosie - I wouldnt worry about the "incomplete projects" sidebar thing so much - unless one of the scripts you're querying happens to be listed as "incomplete."

  4. Yeah, I've seen a few of those writer sites around the interwebtubes. The biggest red flag is like you said, why do they have half a dozen or more scripts up on their site? It's not a buffet.

    Like you said, Bitter, if the writer has six or more scripts, why haven't any of them sold yet?

  5. If you have your own website as a filmmaker, would it be okay to have a "screenwriting" tab with a few loglines and contest win/place information?

  6. I'm a writer, but I've also put together a couple (animated) shorts and need an art portfolio online for graphic novel queries, so I figured I'd set up a website. I was going to combine the art portfolio with a place to watch my shorts (I wrote the scripts, created the "creatures," filmed them, everything--which is how it all relates :) ), a sample chapter from my manuscript, and the first acts from my TV spec scripts. I figured the website would be a kind of portfolio for ALL my work. But would that seem too unfocused or desperate? If a website combining all that would be a bad idea, what do you recommend?

  7. In an email, someone pointed out that Ron might have been inquiring about a website that a writer created as a supplement to their script, along the lines of the epistolary site that writer Eric Heisserer discusses here. That's a slightly different ball of wax, sort of akin to all the web-only extras that the makers of Blair Witch used to market their project over ten years ago.

    In that instance, I'd say if you have a really clever gimmick - as Eric did - then go for it. If you're posting a blog written in the voice of your main character or posting some "found-footage" that ties in with your script, that could be cool.

    My answer above is more in relation to those websites created by writers that are nothing more than bio pages, screenplay pitches and links to PDFs of their work. No one wants to see that shit, trust me. I'd love to link to a prime example of such a page, but I don't want to subject those webmasters to such direct ridicule. I think most of you have a sense of what I'm talking about, though.

    Sasha - websites seem like a great place for art portfolios. I don't know if it would make you seem unfocused. I wouldn't post any of your writing though. I figure if someone important is intrigued enough by your work to open the PDF, they'd surely be just as fast to send you an email and request the material. And then you'd know who was looking at your writing!

    dizzydent - That seems a bit more acceptable, particularly if you've made some short films and they're also on the site. Those could be the main feature, with your writing resume merely explaining the broader base of your work.

  8. Hey, Bitter. I was indeed referring to those writer bio/pitch/PDF personal web sites, and not some cool "viral marketing"-type supplemental site. Thanks for your response.

    Coincidentally, in today's BlueCat newsletter they asked 2007 BlueCat finalist Vicki Speegle:

    BC: You have your own website with info on screenplays that you have written. Have you found your site to be a useful marketing tool? How else do you market yourself?

    VS: I'm laughing right now because this is something I've been discussing a lot with my writer friends. How do struggling writers "market" themselves? A centerfold in Screenwriter Magazine? I just don't know what "marketing" myself means anymore. I used to think it meant sending out query letters, but even with the writing credits I've garnered and my contest placements, I've never received a single script request from a query letter. It's a real conundrum to me. Almost like the old "need experience to get a job, but can't get experience without a job" puzzle. We want our work to be read and produced, so we have to try to "market" it, but that task has no clear job description, and takes so much precious time for few if any results. I would so much rather just stay holed up in my room writing. But I write because I want to share it with others. Ahhh!

    And so I wouldn't describe my site as a marketing tool. It's more of a "if you want to know more about me, here I am" tool. I mean, agents and production companies aren't out there [G]oogling "screenplays" to search for material. There is no way to reach them except through knowing their brother's housekeeper's personal trainer, or placing in a reputable contest, or producing something on your own that gets attention at a festival. But I do think a website has value. When I make contact with someone at a company, they usually visit the site and it's good to have my work represented there. Whatever you can do to show your professionalism and dedication to your craft is a plus - give people a sense of who you are so you're not just another faceless name.

    As far as other ways of marketing myself, I think for writers the word is really networking. It's important to meet and develop relationships with people who can either connect you with their personal trainer's housekeeper's brother's agent or help you produce your own work. If anyone out there knows of other ways, I'm open to ideas!

  9. Thanks for the advice on keeping my visual and written work's really too bad, since the movies and graphics only exist because I had scripts I thought would look great a certain way and so decided to produce them myself.

    Ah well, c'est la vie :) It's probably best to keep things simple and focused on the internet. Nobody goes to a website for a zillion different things--they show up to buy exactly what the site is selling, and then want to move on. If it works for you, Bitter Script Reader who writes a blog completely focused on bitterly reading scripts and nothing much else, it'll probably work for me, too :)

  10. I always think its funny when a writer lists the awards a script they wrote has won and the accolades have dates spanning from Best Sci-Fi Script 2005 through to Quarterfinalist in the blah blah 2010. Like they write the script specifically to enter it into festivals forever instead of making an effort to show it to people.