Screenwriting : What do you do when you discover you're "doing it wrong"? by Michelle J Kenoyer

Michelle J Kenoyer

What do you do when you discover you're "doing it wrong"?

Hi all, After a long hiatus and after finishing my 8th screenplay, I've read up on the industry (finally!) and discovered that (horrors!) industry pros like agents and producers keep a database of writers who've submitted screenplays that weren't ready for prime time, so any subsequent submissions by those writers--no matter how good--will go immediately in the trash. This has me immensely worried. :( After years of writing and submitting and getting enough flush letters with which to wallpaper a small building, I'm worried if my name is in that database and if I have any hope of restoring my reputation--if indeed my other 7 screenplays were sucky enough to merit being on that list. :( If I have confidence that my newest script is of some value, should I consider a legal name change or submitting with a pseudonym? I realize that this should probably be the least of my worries right now, but...I'm worried. :( Thanks ahead, m

Jan Evans

Coverage stays in an agency database for long time. So, if someone's coverage on a script is bad, I suppose that could be a hindrance on new material submitted.

Kevin Fukunaga

Hi Michelle, while I can't say extensively what all companies may or may not have in terms of a script database, I have worked at an agency, studio and prodco at at none of these companies was there any database/black list of exceptionally bad writers. Submitted screenplays were tracked and coverage archived, but I have never seen a writer black listed because they had too much bad coverage. I have even seen scripts get bad coverage and then subsequent drafts submitted and been covered again. I suppose someone could look you up in their company's database, if they were so inclined, and read the coverage for all the screenplays you've ever submitted to that particular company, but I doubt they would do that unless they had a specific reason. And again, I'm not saying that some company doesn't have a black list, but I've never seen one specifically. Good luck!

Jan Evans

Maybe, and Kevin has some very valid and good information. I don't think there's any "writer blacklist" but a name/title search can bring up past coverage, if someone was so inclined. Most readers/agents are pretty busy theses days.

D Marcus

Michelle, what you have discovered is not true. You don't mention where you discovered this false information, but you can relax.

Vinod Modha

Hi Michelle J Kenoyer, do not let this worry you. Film producers and agents are after the best script that will make them a cart load of money! So a good script will be recognized by someone somewhere (even the Beatles had to deal with rejection) So believe that 'Cream will always rise to the top' and that you are creating 'cream of the cream' (with due hard sweat and tears of course). Good luck. Writing is a craft and one gets better with it with each finished writing project.

Mary Ellen Gavin

First, do not worry as half of these people who kept files--are no longer working in Hollywood. What screenwriters do not remember is that there are pro writers still working who are commissioned to write scripts according to a "hip" idea that caught fire. Most of the time, these scripts never see the light of a big screen. It is these writers who are our competition. And with feature money being reserved for big box office? The chances we can sell our scripts are lean--still we write them...we cannot help ourselves. There are two outlets open to all of us to get our scripts produced. Film Schools and small production companies are always begging for our scripts--especially our short works. or YOU hook up with a cast and crew, who like you are hungry to create, and you get out there and create your own short that would promote your feature. There is Independent Money out there and Film Fests will showcase your work. Think about it! MEg

Frank Vespe

Hi Michelle- If Samuel Clemens could use another name, then go for it. Some stories, due to odd-ball content, might mandate a pseudonym.

Geno Scala

This is something I've been saying for a long time, which stresses the point "you have but one chance to make a first impression." Given that most new(er) writers fail to work on their craft BEFORE sending out their stuff (you can count me as one of those as well), I don't think the initial black mark renders all future submissions to the trash. But, this is where you turn it around, learn the spec rules, adhere to them, and start building your credibility through things like contest success, credits and festival submissions. While your name may remind them of a previously submitted bad script, armed with your new bio and list of successes should show how you've grown and improved. If the case is that, after eight scripts, you've done nothing to improve in these areas and instead have shown little growth, your reputation will proceed your work- and not for the better. I get submissions all of the time, and I remember the writer's names quite well. I still glance at them, but within a page or two, it' easy to tell there's virtually no improvement. If they can't spend the time to learn, I don't have the time to read.

Michelle J Kenoyer

Yeah, I've recently had a watershed moment where I realized that I need to buckle down, re-learn the craft, improve my story structure, and "do it right" instead of keep doing it wrong. :p I just joined a screenwriters' critique group in my area and am doing something every day to not only write, but educate myself on the business and the standards. I just hope I'm not too late to the party...

Cheryl Doel

Thank you for posting your trials and errors. I hope you are not stuck in one of those databases, but if it were me I would submit the next screenplay under a different name to see if you get better results. I think it's great you joined a screenwriters' group. Wish we had one in my area.

Mary Ellen Gavin

There is a simple answer to all of this--write your sizzling script and populate it with intriguing characters. Then hire a Script Consultant to make sure plot, characters and ending get flushed out and it's in a format acceptable for a Spec Script. Then, ask/pay your consultant to assist with not only your Log Line but also your Short Synopsis. Finally, work with that consultant to find a producer looking for your Sizzling Screenplay.

Jan Evans

"I know is highly sort after..." Sought not sort.

D Marcus

There is no argument that too many writers submit scripts that are not ready. That is, indeed, a bad first impression. However, no companies I know of keep a database of "do not ever read again" writers. Everyone in the business knows writers improve so it would be a terrible business decision to never read a script from a writer who submitted a poorly written script. All companies keep a data base of scripts and writers who have submitted (even query letters) and coverage. This is for legal reasons; not to "blacklist" writers.

James Breckenridge

Whether they actively crosscheck past coverage or not, it behoves you to only send out the very best writing you have to offer the industry. Some writers will send out a script to see if an agent or producer likes it. That's not important. What is important is that you like it/love it and know it is representative of only your vey best work. Keep working - keep learning. Nobody masters the business, they just get smarter. Eventually you'll get noticed and those who get noticed, get work and are invited to finally participate in the business of show.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

Michelle, we don't all start out being Paddy Chayefsky. So it might take a while to get going. but keep striving for good story and writing. good writing always rises to the top. (At least in my book.)

Danny Manus

I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle, as has been stated. Yes, companies - agencies, development execs, etc - keep databases of ALL scripts that are sent in, read, covered, rejected, etc. That is what a development executive (and their assistant) does. And yes, if you have submitted 5 scripts and they have all TRULY SUCKED. Not just been "not good enough" - but TRULY sucked - you probably will not get read again at those places with your 6th script. That being said, the only way to get blacklisted or blackballed as a writer -is to be an asshole. If you were the writer who emailed that executive every 3 days to follow up, or you were horribly rude and insulting and fought back when the exec passed on your script or you started to stalk them - then YES - You are probably on some blackballed list and yes, those things get around! But in terms of just not having a good enough script, I don't think that matters much. However, if you have previously submitted a project and it sucked and then you REWROTE it completely, you NEED to change the title. Because they will NOT accept the same script twice no matter how different you say it is. Hope this helps...

Kevin Fukunaga

Hi Michelle, I wanted to add one piece of advice, if you submit a different draft of a screenplay that has already received coverage -- the changes should be significant. The reason is, when an assistant gets a script and his/her boss asks them to get coverage on it, the first thing they do is look to see if it's already been covered. Even if the drafts are dated differently, if the page counts are similar (116 to 114 for example), the assistant might just hand the older coverage to his/her boss, mention that the drafts seem similar and ask if they want it covered again - which they may or may not. If the scripts are very different - years apart and/or major page difference (like 116 to 98) then it's likelier to get a new set of coverage because they're likely to be very different. (EDIT: Or do what Danny says above and change the title. That can work too.) Also, in regards to sharing any sort of "bad writer" names or list, I've never seen it happen, nor heard of it happening. Worst case I could imagine would be (possibly) a very bad and very persistent or annoying writer (who constantly harasses the office) being badmouthed in a random conversation with a fellow assistant over lunch. That's not bound to go very far and would likely be out of frustration of a writer wasting their time, being rude or super annoying, more than anything. I suppose, if a production company uses the same few readers and you've submitted eight screenplays and many of them were covered by the same story analyst and they were all bad -- maybe they'd have some bias if they remembered the name again on the cover page of another screenplay. You can't really control that except for wow'ing them with your next one. And they will read it, as that's what they get paid to do if told by their boss, but yes, their judgement could be tainted slightly by previous bad encounters with a writer's work in the past. That would likely only be in extreme circumstances however, as unless your script was exceedingly horrendous or they had to read multiple bad scripts by the same writer in quick succession, they're likely to forget your name. Most active readers will be asked to read 100 (on the low end) to 300-500 screenplays a year and, trust me, most of them are bad. If they've been doing it for a few years, they've likely read thousands of scripts. So unless your scripts stand out for some reason, your name is not likely to garner much attention in the future. Lastly, most high level execs, producers, agents, etc. don't have the time or desire to create and/or distribute a black list for even the worst writers. In addition to that, Hollywood types tend to be very risk averse as well. That's why most of the time you don't get an email saying "your script was crap, the coverage came back awful and I don't think you can write..." They simply pass with a "it wasn't really for me..." or just don't respond at all. It's plausible deniability for them if that writer's career takes off and you become the next Diablo Cody, they didn't insult you to your face or spread your name on some horrible writer shit list. The only writers that execs, producers and agents/managers keep a list of, is good ones whose work they respect. They almost all have lists like that, so they remember who to consider working with. Those are the lists you want to be on and those absolutely do exist. Again, my info doesn't come from hearsay or hyperbole but from being a former CAA and Fox assistant and WB prodco story analyst. Good luck in any case! Glad to hear your writing is progressing! :)

No Name

True Kevin.

Patricia Ecklund-Ruch

Patricia Ecklund-Ruch Thanks for the input, Michelle. Interesting. However I imagine data bases would keep track of GOOD scripts and good writers. Hope rejections are not tracked and if so, it would take an ENORMOUS data base!!!

Jan Evans

Yeah, that's true. Mot so good, well, it's not so good. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. It was too easy. Hone not home. And there's always sought not sort.

Dillon Mcpheresome

I've never heard of this but it is totally believable. It makes me sad to think all the emails and queries put me on a black list. But you shouldn't need to legally change your name.

Charlotte Hardt

Let's get real here. I can't imagine an industry that can turn out so many movies not up to par still holds the screenwriters personally up to a standard, from first effort, that forever marks them. Also, the sheer number of screenplays out there would cause one who produces to think in terms of the the monkeys getting to Shakespeare level eventually. haha. Throwing out every work by a writer based one their early efforts? It sounds like their culling of the undedicated from the herd to me. There are very few Mozarts in this field. It is such a challenging discipline to write, I cannot imagine there's a red-letter of shame for that first effort. Try to keep in mind the director's or producer's number 1 question: What have you written lately?

Rachael Saltzman

The blackball only comes to the crazy people. Unless you submitted daily in crayon, called every day for a month, or showed up demanding to see the person in charge, you're more likely to just be forgotten about.

Michael L. Burris

Confidence in the face of adversity to grow. I bet if you read your eight script compared to your first you would see the growth yourself. Fundamentals can be taught but skill has to be honed. At least this is what I tell myself. Also when I hone my skills doing something else and come back to what I thought was decent it becomes a much better and sometimes pretty amazing rewrite. I keep all drafts of my work to recall process mistakes I've made too. It get's easier and easier and easier and someday you look at what you've done and realize how expert you truly have become. Don't give up Michelle and if anything you should gain confidence and momentum. Even if we are or become sharply refined screenwriters we have to keep a honed edge. Good luck and keep confidence.

Michael L. Burris

I should also add the easier and easier and easier part is not only seeing our mistakes and then laughing or saying duh! to ourselves but doing better and better work to begin with. This should really boost confidence. At least that is what I found for me anyway. There is also a saying "you can't polish a turd" but I say you can indeed polish a crappy screenplay. I don't care what anyone says about that. Anyone can if they want to give the screenplay the effort. Got to go write an episode 4, again good luck.

Ivan Alexei Dominguez

Removes the doubt and be sure to write with all the passion of your heart and have faith! Regards Ivan

Alex Winck

Also that notion of a database seems ultimately counterproductive, there´s hardly a successful screenwriter whose work wasn´t initially rejected. Writers who sell their first screenplays are rare, and a lot of them end up never being feard about again.

Mary Ellen Gavin

The rumor was that this practice was true years back in what is referred to as Old Hollywood. As I heard it, this practice of filing the names of writers whose work was turned down began by the clerical in the offices as they were often the first readers. I also thought there was a gal in this discussion who stated as a producer, she did keep records of submissions and their creators. I have attended years of screenwriter conferences, pitching my "babies" and warming to other writers who were trying to do the same. We have all talked about The Bad-Writers List. Still, if you have a stellar script--you are golden. Go write it!!!!

Patricia Ecklund-Ruch

Great comments.

Danny Manus

The databases aren't about Blacklisting anyone - it's about protecting themselves legally. So when someone tries to sue them for stealing their ideas, they can show the court their extensive database and say "See, this writer's full of shit - we never read it." But it's also just about keeping track of things you read. I have a list of every script I read from 2003-2009, and a new list of scripts I've read for my consulting company since then. And those lists have dates, titles, writers names, genre, when I read it, when I replied and a line of overall thoughts on why I passed or didn't pass. But to Patricia's point, they ABSOLUTELY keep track of the bad ones. Not to blacklist writers, but to show a history and keep track.

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