Screenwriting : Unsolicited material not wanted! by D. Miles

D. Miles

Unsolicited material not wanted!

Why do so many studios both big and small have this policy about not accepting unsolicited material? I think studios are overlooking a vast number of scripts that are probably better than the ones they accept from agents, managers, and lawyers. There should be a way to get your unsolicited material solicited without going through an agent or manager. WGA should incorporate a system that would allow unsolicited material to be solicited through their organization and take a commission fee for projects that meet a certain criteria and are accepted. I'm just thinking out loud... what do you think?

CJ Walley

I think we have to take a step back and consider why so many studios feel they have to do this. Firstly, there's the issue of the message they're sending out; If a studio accepts unsolicited material, they are opening the flood gates and may become swamped with new material, most of which is going to be of a very low standard. Secondly, there's the legal complications. Studios make themselves vulnerable by reading submissions unless they are protected by a release form. If they accept unsolicited material, and want to stay protected, they have to send out a form to every writer they accept material from, handle getting it signed, and keep the paperwork on file. So does your WGA solution solve those issues? Well perhaps it could. But is it any better than the systems that have grown organically such as the competitions and coverage services which help writers gain representation? This I'm not so sure about, but perhaps. What I'd like to see are more studios and management companies adopting the same approach as Amazon Studios. Simply employ an online submission process which has every writer submit through a system which binds them to the terms of a fair release form.

D. Miles

Thanks CJ, your input was very insightful and helps clear up a lot of questions.

louis phillips

they don't accept it because its confetti...they obviously do not have the time...for someone...that knows how to...to read it...

Brenda Adelman

I think if your material is unsolicited and someone reads it and uses something from your script in their script or movie there is no way to track that. I think it's a legal thing in addition to them already receiving tons of scripts everyday. I think having it sent in through an agent is a way of narrowing down the quality of the script they receive. It's definitely not a perfect world and there are super talented first time writers but there is also a level of professionalism that comes from working with an agent or having a referral.

Balraj Kler

A pitchfest is a good gauge as to the state of writing: a pair of guys I saw who were reps for a prominent black actor had a stack of one sheets about 1 and a half feet high. This was at an under-advertised event where only 'serious' screenwriters and their ideas go to, one can only imagine what would happen if the policy were to be reversed. There's another factor here: Politics. The people you read about, have seen on Blu-Ray and are guests on day time TV shows have risen to the top on the graces of producers, managers and agents. Those projects rarely come from outsiders and are instead cultivated from the bottom upwards via networking or have Star power behind them. An unsolicited script is basically starting it's life on the ocean floor, not the party yacht in Cannes.

D Marcus

CJ hit it. I "liked" his comment but I wanted to support it here, too. Sure, many great scripts get blocked by the "unsolicited material" wall, but by a factor of 8 to 1 the unreadable/unmarketable/poorly written scripts are also blocked. D you might be surprised to hear that there is not a vast number of scripts that are better than the ones they accept from agents, managers, and lawyers. One thing CJ didn't mention is the cost of reading scripts. Not only in dollars but in time. It's expensive to have a script covered and hiring more and more readers just so the writer with one script (their very first) who believes it's the best script ever written gets their shot isn't cost effective. Or time effective. Go to one of the peer review websites like zoetrope, scriptbuddy and triggerstreet. Randomly pick scripts from each. Don’t look at the genre, the synopsis, log line or writers name, just pick a total of ten scripts. See how many of those you think are great scripts ready to be made into movies. I suspect you will understand why studios both big and small have this policy about not accepting unsolicited material.

CJ Walley

Indeed, I do think it's import we respect that simply reading a script can have more impact on a prodco than we may think. I believe the average script time is supposed to be two hours, accept four extra scripts in a week and that means potentially losing an entire day, a day in a business which is trying to turn profit. Outsource the coverage and that's, at least, $100 in reader fees plus time managing that relationship. It's also worth noting that there are often writers out there who will abuse any opportunity to be heard. It seems the brick wall attitude some prodcos and industry members project is mainly a result of having their fingers burnt in the past.

Royce Allen Dudley

Yes, it is foremost due to legal concerns and for practical volume concerns as well. It's also, on the other side of the coin, why no one in their right mind would sign an NDA before reading a script once they have agreed to... it could potentially tongue tie me on my own similar project in parallel development. ( asking for an NDA is a paranoid, rookie move; that's what copyright at best . WGA registration at least are for ) Producers need as much freedom to develop their own or optioned material without the danger that claim will be made that they have incorporated or derived content from another without permission. That's also why WGA registration is so important- it is your first defense to claim of authorship, and an " ownership stamp" right on the cover- it keeps the honest people honest. You cannot do anything about the crooks( another thread ). As many companies work in focused realms or genres, it's likely that similar scripts will appear... so they do not read them. The notion that there are not enough new and unique scripts being read misses two points and is another topic really- there are a TON of scripts circulating and being read, and new and / or unique is not necessarily a thing studios want.

D Marcus

What do you do that you get an average of 14 scripts per day, every day, all year long sent to you? I cover for three major prodCo's. They don't get that many.

Art Thomas

Mr. Miles: As a former executive vice president of programming for a national cable channel; our reason for not accepting unsolicited material was primarily due to liability issues. The secondary reason was a means to control the influx of scripts or proposals that were simply not ready for serious consideration. Once you establish a relationship with the acquistions person at a network or studio, you can bypass this hurdle. I hope this helps.

Rachael Saltzman

As a DP, I ask to see a script before taking on a low or unpaid project, to see if its any good. I took zero this past year. One the year before. I read every week.

Ted Gurich

There are places to post your script..like Ink Tip. But to separate your script from the masses you need to win a well know screenwriting contest. My comedy Chasing Don Juan has won several (the biggest was 2011 Creative World Awards). It is entered in three more. While it hasn't happened yet, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that these wins will tempt a manager or agent to take a look. We'll see...

William Martell

They use agents and managers as their filters. But you can usually equery producers with a logline, and they might respond with a request to read the screenplay. The real issue is number of screenplays out there in the first place... about a million of them! And they are going to buy about a hundred... and most of those million screenplays are not very good. So they don't want to read 10,000 to find that one... they leave that to agents and managers... who often leave that to contests and referrals (and the occasional interesting logline).

D. Miles

Great feedback from everyone! CJ, and D Marcus hit it on the head and Mr. Thomas, I will take your advice. It sounds like there might be a bigger issue here than I anticipated with unsolicited verses solicited material.

CJ Walley

I do appreciate how it feels when you read those statements on the websites, D. It feels cold, harsh and like the industry just doesn't want new blood. But it has to be that way.

Gordon Olivea

One way to get material viewed is making contacts here at stage32, especially the pitch sessions that are available now that we have become partners with Happy Writers. There are pitch festivals in LA and a few in NYC that you pay hundreds of dollars to attend for the chance to meet with studio executives.

Anna Sahlstrom

I guess you could have someone who knows them recommend your script. They may take referrals. I don't know about paying hundreds of dollars most of us don't have to spare just so you can pitch. They have actor showcases along the same theory as that. How lucrative could these pitch fests be? A few of them may be there just for show, to dangle a carrot for desperate screenwriters, just like they do to actors way too often.

Don Bledsoe

John Totten has it right. It's a legal issue even among pro writers. Years ago, I worked in the Story Department at Paramount and we regularly (read as: weekly) received scripts with similar premise and concepts from pro writers, let alone the public at large. In those days, unsolicited scripts were mailed back to the sender with a letter explaining why Paramount could not accept their story. A copy was always filed away ... to protect the studio in the event they made a movie too similar to one they returned.

William Martell

Send query letters to producers, they will request the script if it has a great idea. Had a meeting with the company that made WATERWORLD (among others) and they have a full time guy who just reads loglines... then deletes them. he reads thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands... to find the one.

Cherie Grant

lol I was going to say something about that alle.

William Martell

You can't judge a screenplay by its movie.

Cherie Grant

I'd love to know what those TV series are.

Lee Davis

Contacts are key. But you can't contact just anybody. If you've written something distinct, try to make contact with people who's background suggests they are predisposed to be interested in your script. For example, if you write a sports story, find some people who are associated with other sports films like Moneyball, Draft Day, Trouble with the Curve, The Blindside, Bull Durham, etc. When you contact this person, be brief, but emphasize why you think they might be interested in your project. Before you reach out to anyone, do some research, create a target list, contact several strong leads and and keep on point. Don't tell him/or her the story of your movie or your life. Just tell him why you're knocking on his door.

David Ingrassano

Lee Davis- I have to agree contacts are key though the hard part is making contacts. I have contacted 165 agents over and over again and can't seem to get anyone to read my scripts. I had one agent say "who the f are you" . I'm sure he was having a bad day. When you've gone to film school...polished your work...and waited ...its a frustrating process to not having anyone willing to read your scripts.

Lee Davis

I'm confused. Why exactly did you send to these 165 agents? Common wisdom is that agents won't look at a new writer unless the writer has a contract in hand (at which time you become the object of "agent frenzy"). For what it's worth, I think you need to change direction. First, of course, your script needs to be original, interesting, and marketable, and you need to have a unique story told with a powerful voice. Second, I think you need to only send it to folks a good way down the food chain who your research tells you could be interested in the story concept. Turn the problem around. Say you're the potential decision maker. Why would you read my script? You don't know me from Adam. No one is recommending my work to you. What's so special about my story that you can't resist taking a peak. What do you and I have in common that made you want to send me your script? Answer please...Lee.

David Ingrassano

Lee Davis...Why are you confused? Normally, you can call an agency and ask "are you accepting query letters from new writers". They will let you know if they do or if they only accept from referrals. Having gone to film school for screenwriting I learned the craft of writing....but no one tells you how to get it to market after the scripts are polished. I have the idea if you knock on enough doors someone will answer. I have three completed features . Most likely I will end up developing.

Beverly Bremers

There's always the possibility of lawsuits looming in their futures in case they release a project that's similar to something that was submitted unsolicited! Also, the scripts would be piled so high on their desks, they couldn't breathe, much less read them.

D Marcus

Dan, how does one attach a well known director to a script? What well known directors did you attach to your spec scripts when you were writing them?

D Marcus

So in your experience well known directors are more open to read unsolicited scripts from new writers? What is you advice on how to get the contact info of well known directors so writers can call them to see if they are interested so they can sent a script? And when you say you attached them could you explain what you mean? How does a writer attach a well known director to their scripts?

Michael Swiskay

Studios and productions companies are averse to reading unsolicited material because they are all paranoid of intellectual property issues and whether they produce a film that has even the smallest resemblance to a script received as an unsolicited submission. Alas, they all are daunted by the mortal fear that some unknown writer will hit them with a copyright infringement lawsuit because of what maybe a dubious claim of said infringement. That said, this writer doesn't defend the producers for taking this position as much as lament that the channels by which quality material get to the attention of those with the power to produce is ridiculously clogged with paranoia.

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