Dear Gatekeeper: I've finished my spec script, entered a couple of contests and sent out a zillion query letters by mail and email. The only response I received was from an agent who will represent me if I shell out $25 for every submission. I'm willing to invest the time and energy, but just don't know what 'creative' steps I can take next. Help.
Suze Q., Santa Monica, CA
This Week's Gatekeeper Howard Meibach responds: Dear Suze, what you need to do next is what I like to call 'Selling your screenplay outside the box.' I'd like to make a few suggestions, which I believe will better your odds of a sale, but before I begin, here's a very important bit of advice: Never send anyone your script unsolicited. It's not the way Hollywood does business.
(1) Contact low-level assistants at the agencies and production companies. They don't get much attention, and many are looking for brownie points to move up the company's totem pole. Find out who they are by calling the companies or buying both versions of the 'Hollywood Creative Directory.'
(2) Contact up-and-coming video and commercial directors. Studios love these guys since they work fast and cheap. The way to do this is to get the name of the ad agency or production company that made the commercial or video by sifting through advertising, music and video magazines at the library. If it's a commercial director you are seeking, you might also contact the company that makes the product and ask them the name of their ad agency. Once you track down this company, get the name of the director and his/her contact info. If the company only wants to give you the name of an agent, see if they'll forward a letter to the director. If they refuse, write to the agent, but don't expect much. If you can get a manager contact, this will work better since managers are more open to new opportunities than an agent. An agent is usually about fielding offers while a manager is about guiding a career.
(3) Contact straight-to-video or low-budget feature folks. Go to your local video store and look at the backs of boxes of movies you've never heard of. You know, the kind of flicks that have Wings Hauser in the lead. Get the name of the production company that produced it and write to the movie's writer, director or producer in care of the company. Or you can call the company first, ask for an assistant and see if they'll forward your letter. This might be better if you're good on the phone. Like with the video and commercial directors, the people who work on lower budget films and straight-to-video releases are more likely to read your query and respond. Even if you have a big budget screenplay, you should still contact them. They might read it and suggest someone in the biz who can help you, like their agent or manager.
(4) Some of the low-level feature and TV directors can be contacted through the Directors Guild Of America (DGA), if they are a member. You should buy a copy of the latest 'Directory Of Members.' It's about $31.00, which includes shipping within the U.S. You don't have to be a member to buy a copy. (Contact the Guild at 310-289-2000 to make sure of the latest price.) All the listings in the Directory contain the director's name. How much additional info is included depends on how much in demand that director is. Hey, a few listings even include a home phone number, but we don't recommend you call. Write first. If there's no office or home address listed, write to their manager or attorney. If their rep's name is listed with no address or phone number, you might be able to find it on the internet and in published books.
(5) If there's no contact info listed at all -- just the director's name -- you might consider sending the letter in care of the Directors Guild, and they'll forward it. Or, at least, they say they will. Contact them on the best way to go about this. Now don't send them 100 letters or they will think you're a pest and not want to help you. Also, as we said earlier, your best chance with this is to contact a director who is new to features or who works in the low-budget arena and might want to break out. Stay away from the big guys like Ridley Scott and Ron Howard. In general, it's a waste of time and will only lead to disappointment when they don't respond. Sure, you might get lucky, but the odds of anything happening this way are against you. Play the percentages, and it might pay off. Keep trying the same marketing methods that everyone has done for the past 50 years and you'll lose.