Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reader question - How should I use a familial connection to sell a script?

Chris writes in:

Mr. Bitter Script Reader,

Please, Mr. Bitter Script Reader is my father. Just call me Bitter.

After coming across your blog, I quickly consumed all the valuable information you provide. With as much information that you, as well as your guest bloggers, have provided there is still a question I wanted to ask. I understand that it is important to utilize all contacts you may have within the industry, from fellow writers to "gatekeepers" to executives. My concern with this is that I have a family member who is an executive producer who is fairly well know (thus I'll not mention their name) and has worked on numerous projects from television to motion pictures.

I know that should I ever polish my screenplay to a level I feel conforms to a level of a professional, my relative would be more than willing to read what I have created. But I am quite worried that with this person being a direct family member-one of my mother's siblings-they may pass it down the ladder only as a way of saying they tried. I have spoken with them a couple of times and have indicated my interest in this field and it has always been responded to with strong words of encouragement.

Seeing as I've taken the long winded approach to my question, here goes. What advice would you offer given my set of circumstances. Seeing as this may be my "one" opportunity to offer a script that has the highest chances of being sold. Though I know this individual would be more than happy to "read" more of my material at a later date should this one not be of interest, I know that I only have one shot. Additionally, at what point in the polishing of this document should I take the leap and send it to them? I don't want to be still polishing up, re-writing, ten years from now, but again I don't want to make a careless mistake and look like an amateur. Perhaps I should send it to them and ask for advice one what they would change, what they might do differently, or seek general advice pertaining to my document.

Any advice would be extremely appreciated.

Well, this is your uncle you're talking about, so I'm assuming this isn't someone you have a distant relationship with. That'll help a lot if by some chance you turn in something that "isn't quite ready yet." If you show potential, I'd think your uncle would offer encouragement and advice even if your script needs more work. As busy as people in the industry are, I don't think you have only one "at bat" with someone that closely related.

If my cousin or brother sent me a script, unless it was truly, truly terrible, I have a hard time believing I'd completely cut them off from submitting again, or say, "You had your chance."

My advice would be to worry less about giving him something that he can help get sold and instead, look at this as an opportunity to obtain a mentor. You don't mention how long you've been writing or how many scripts you've written, but I sense this isn't something you've become attracted to on a lark.

Are you close with this uncle? Is he aware of your passion for writing? Do you share common tastes in films or movies? You have an opportunity to bond with him on a personal level and really pick his brain. You'll probably get a more candid view of the industry than if this person was someone you happened to meet through your college's alumni group or something like that.

Like, if my uncle was someone like Joss Whedon or John Wells, I'd probably be constantly prodding them with curious questions about their job. I'd be asking them what they thought of the latest big films, which TV shows they watched, what they like to see in television or movie writing. Often people are only too happy to talk about their work or their industry with people who show a genuine interest in it.

Look at this as your opportunity to get a free master class in writing. To see this as just an opportunity to get your script to someone in power is really short-sighted. Sell yourself, not the script. A real mentor is worth his weight in gold.

But how do you know when to lay that script on him? I don't know if there is a firm answer for that. You seem to understand that one shouldn't send out their first draft, or even their second. Do you have other friends who you trust to give you writing feedback? Have you gotten people together for a table read of the script so you can hear it outloud? Have you sent it to professional readers and coverage services so you can get an idea of how it holds up to other professional works.

As far as how to approach him, I think giving it to him with the understanding that you're looking for feedback is an excellent way to go about it. It shows you understand that writing in the industry is rewriting, and that you're not arrogant enough to assume you've hit it out of the park the first time.

You seem to have given it a lot of thought and seem to be aware of a lot of the mistakes that less savvy people might make. I say "go with your gut." When the script is ready - when you've polished it enough so that nothing major in there is bothering you - you'll know.

Good luck. You've got access to a great resource, so you just need to be smart about how you use it.

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