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02/16/2002 - The Gatekeeper, Part III


Storming the entertainment castle is difficult from any perspective. Even seasoned insiders find themselves unable to get the necessary attention to launch a decent project, so don't spend too much time despairing your distance from the Hollywood sign.

Instead, locate the closest film hub (preferably Los Angeles) and hie thee hence. If you just can't for whatever reason, that's understandable, but accept that you'll have a great deal of difficulty getting Hollywood's attention via the post office. I may be wrong and the two of you out there reading this may disagree, but if you want to be a screenwriter MORE THAN ANYTHING IN THE WORLD you need to move here - or someplace that can provide an intense learning environment.

Be warned: moving to LA is no guarantee of success. But if you're unattached, energetic and feel that you have nothing to lose, I suggest you give it a try. Maybe you've heard that LA's a pit of frustrated ambition, backstabbing greed and cultural decay? Sure, but you haven't lived until you've dodged the parade of window-tinted SUV's careening down Highland Boulevard like drunken giants. It's a daily survival game, but someday it's going to look exactly like BLADE RUNNER, and I'm going to be here to see it.

Of course, query letters are one way to get your screenplay read from afar, but it's the longest shot you can take. Rightly or wrongly, development people will assume that you're too inexperienced and read your work with a negative mindset. Even if you've written a fairly decent story, it may be rejected unless it's something that company wants to make this very minute.

The reader of your script may notice that you have talent, that your romantic scenes have unusual depth, or that the images are fresh, but unless the company wants to option your work or meet with you, you'll never know. No one there will take a personal interest in guiding you along - which is exactly what you need. Writers need feedback, lots of feedback. Blind queries usually leave you in the dark without knowledge of what you did wrong, or if you did anything wrong at all.

Get better feedback by mingling with the people who make (or someday will make) the decisions. For while a production company's doors may be closed to outsiders, the company itself is run by people - people who care about finding and nurturing talent, and who, if you befriend them or their friends, may agree to look at something you've written. We all started somewhere.

Once you settle into your new environment, find a industry-related job and network a little, the next thing to do is get qualified personal feedback on your screenplay. Not your friends or family, but an impartial opinion. If you're in Los Angeles, a few phone calls should net you the phone number of a reader - either someone who makes money doing it for a company, or maybe an executive assistant who reads material on a regular basis. Offer to compensate them $20-$50 to read your script and, depending on available time, either type up coverage (just the comments, no synopsis of course) or sit down with you for a cup of coffee and give you verbal comments.

The most important thing is that you cannot have a personal relationship to this reader. A relationship will prevent you from hearing any harsh truths - which are exactly what you need. Logical, blunt analysis of your script will help you see how your screenplay is succeeding or failing. A kindly friend will not tell you if your initial premise is soft. How could a friend tell you that they reject your plot outright? They rarely will square with you, especially if they really dislike the writing. They might point out only little problems to avoid telling you about the whoppers. It's simply too much pressure to put on a relationship.

Get a grumpy professional involved and you might hear some constructive criticism, especially if you compensate them for their time and honesty. That's the real reason to move where the action is. You need to learn about your targets - the readers and the buyers - and learn from what they know. Maybe you'll decide this isn't for you. Maybe you'll realize you're a genius. At least you'll gain perspective on the industry and save yourself years of seclusion and despair.


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