Monday, June 2, 2014

"How are submissions to agents for their clients handled?"

 Blaine asks:

I have a question on script length when it’s NOT for a spec submission.

I totally understand why 120 pages is the barometer for submission of spec scripts.
Totally understand time is money.
I can write most of my screenplays to 120 comfortably.

However, in this particular case…. I have written and am now producing  a feature which I am directing.  (Based on a best-selling novel)

The script is 165 pages.
It’s a drama in the vein of THE ENGLISH PATIENT, OUT OF AFRICA….

I am confident of bringing the film at 160 minutes.
OUT OF AFRICA and THE ENGLISH PATIENT both run at  161 and 162 respectively.

Its fiction based on true events and the first time that this story has ever been told on screen.
A love story set against the backdrop of a civil war. This war was and is very close to the hearts of many. Many lives lost, many have been effected and continue to be so.

The script has a good pace (I feel);  the pace is quicker than the two I referred to.

The current situ is we are well on the way to putting the funding plan together , sales estimates etc… so WE are comfortable with the length and funding BUT

In the next few weeks the Script will be going out to Agents in LA as part of the packing campaign.

THE QUESTION:  I wondered if you had any insight or thoughts into how the Agents (of their readers) handle the script length issue? Given they are reading it from the perspective of its appeal to the Talent they represent?

My experience is that when you submit to an agency, your script will be read by the same readers who receive all the general submissions.  Really, when you submit anywhere, unless you have an extremely strong personal connection with the executive you're submitting to, expect that the script will be read by the usual "first filters."

Though the coverage will likely address the viability of the script as a project for that actor specifically, it's also likely to give a broad overview of the entire script's virtues and sins.  The reasons for this are probably obvious - even if there's a great role for an actor in the project, if the rest of the script is a dog, that agent is probably not going to want their client committed to it.

Another reason for the coverage to focus on the entire script in general is that this particular coverage will go into the company-wide database.  At some point, should the script be submitted for any other reason in the future, that old coverage will be called up.  Agency coverage lives FOREVER.  If you resubmit the exact same draft, the script will probably not be re-covered.  If you submit a revised draft, it's possible the script will be sent back to the original reader (if available) so that they can do comparison coverage and note if anything has changed from the previous draft.

You might try to get around this by changing the title of the script, but I can assure you that the people working in most story departments are sharp enough to pull up previous submissions by the same writer and give them a quick check to see if the characters and setting are similar to any of those earlier drafts.  More than once I got a script that the story department correctly flagged as a resubmission when the writer was attempting to make it look like a new script. 

There was also one time where the writer successfully fooled duped the people screening the scripts only to have the bad luck for the original reader (me) to grab the new version by sheer luck of the draw.  Within about three pages I recognized the script, which not only had been retitled, but also had several of the character names changed.  Also, the writer used a different permutation of their own name.  The best part? The rest of the script was about 95% the same.  (And pretty bad, so I didn't feel too sorry for him that his little stunt didn't work.)

So with all that in mind, the script length issue becomes somewhat irrelevant. They either like it or they don't.  The length itself won't be a problem as long as every page is compelling.  That said, always make sure that when you're submitting a long script (or any script, really) that there's not an ounce of fat in it.  If it's really good, the worst that'll probably happen is that the reader will note that perhaps future drafts could find a way to bring the length down.


  1. Okay. Now I'm curious. Was the screenplays for Out Of Africa and English Patient really 165 pages long--and were they slow, boring reads? Also, is this the shooting script we are talking about? After all, why get all concerned over a 165 script if it's being produced as is, filmmakers ready to shoot it, etc.

    Mu apologies for being a slight skeptic here.-- but wouldn't a reader know if they are about to read a shooting script as opposed to a spec?

    1. For the reader's purpose there's no distinction between a shooting script and a spec script. We evaluate them all the same way.

    2. A shooting script can be rather technical. Further, there's no need for a shooting script until it's being shot. So would you advise making a script one is attempting to sell more "reader friendly?" I suppose examples of this would be spelling out character reactions and emotions, over-describing some action, etc.

  2. But would it be a little stunt if you liked the rewritten script?

    I don't see the writer trying to pull something over on someone - I see it as wanting to get an impartial second hearing from a reader who might otherwise merely seek to justify the company line on the earlier draft.

    There are scripts that, however good the re-write, are pass on pro forma and never seriously re-read. So, how do you work around that. staying truthful, avoiding "little stunts" and still getting a fair second read? Or with the glut of product out there, is that even possible?

    Finally, be kind: We love our babies and watching them wither away and die on someone else's doorstep is excruciating. Who can blame us if we change their outfits in an effort to keep them alive? :)

    1. It's a stunt because he didn't change anything about the script. He invested a lot of time making superficial changes but the huge, gaping fundamental flaws in the writing and story were completely ignored. If he'd actually tried to address the flaws then I might have admired the effort.

    2. But my question is about substantive changes. Do you honestly believe that a well-written rewrite from a "nobody" (albeit with an agent) will be read with nearly the same attention and enthusiasm as a brand-spanking new virgin script?

      As you wrote, all submissions end up on the writer's "permanent record." It's done to keep people like that guy from wasting your time but, let's be honest, it's more than that. Readers/producers want to find the hidden goldmine - if someone has already panned for gold there, come up empty and told the whole Hollywood community about it, you know most are not going to be as enthusiastic at going back a second time.

      Or not?

    3. If there were substantive changes to the draft, then he has nothing to fear from the re-read. Hell, that might even help him because if the corrections specifically address what the reader found fault with, there might be a reaction of "Hey, this guy actually listened!"

      That's especially likely if the earlier draft was a great idea and terrible execution. There's nothing like the excitement of seeing a writer dig in and figure out how to make it right!