After reading some of the replies to an earlier post criticizing another website that offers some services like Stage 32, I decided I’d share my own experiences as a baby writer. Blame it on my photojournalism background as this isn’t meant to hijack anyone’s post, it’s meant to share my own personal experiences with Stage32, Roadmap Writers, Voyage Media, Coverage Ink, etc., in fairness to all, and hopefully to help others.
First, all these “screenwriter/screenplay” websites exist to share helpful information and knowledge, but they also exist for profit — nothing wrong with that, they got to pay the bills too. Many of these websites use some of the same industry professionals to sell you script pitches, coverage, consulting, first 15 pages, courses, etc., and I want to share my own experiences because ultimately, it’s these professionals that can reflect upon these websites — these websites are at the mercy of these professionals to deliver and deliver good.
A disclaimer: I’m a published photographer, writer, and author with my first four photography books published by a notable publisher and my biggest tear-sheet is a cover story for Parade magazine, circ. 34 million printed copies, with the late, Pulitzer prize winner Eddie Adams. I have lectured at industry events, including at the Jacob Javits center in Manhattan and even in Los Angeles for Samy’s Camera, plus at universities in the U.S., Canada, and the Virgin Islands and have worked on assignment in 45 countries. Basically, I make money teaching, consulting, sharing information, etc., just in a different profession when I’m not doing photography or writing.
My point is, I understand the business of making money on people’s appetite for knowledge, whether it’s how to learn or improve your pitches, screenwriting, screenplays, etc., so in fairness, here are my experiences from when I started pursuing my own scripted, television drama series for premium cable based on my memoirs, as a former U.S. Army combat photographer who enters the world of glamour photography, yes, that’s the working logline, four months ago.
My first experience, Aug. 16, 2017, Voyage Media, I paid $197. Think of them more as a full-service company that helps people adapt books into screenplays plus more, aimed more to newbies with no connections or knowledge in the industry. They happened to have a sale to have a producer of your choice from their list, hear your pitch via telephone for up to one-hour. I had a great producer spend over an hour with me on the phone and in the end, a week later, I received a “roadmap” for my drama series. Great investment, learned a lot.
The roadmap illustrated the good, the bad, the ugly, and the next steps I should take. Four well-written pages. The problem with VM, neither you or the producer can work with each other after that initial contact without going through VM. I understand this is how they make money, brokers, but their prices were not affordable for me, and sadly, I’d give an arm and a leg to continue working with that producer.
That experience motivated me to purchase Final Draft on Sept. 6, 2017, for $169 and start to learn how to screen write. I researched articles, watched videos, and that led me to stumble into all the websites mentioned at the start of this post except VM.
My second experience, Oct. 12, 2017, I paid $99 for my one-hour pilot coverage with Coverage Ink and ten days later I received 16 pages, yes, 16 pages of notes, where my butt was handed to me like a good old ass chewing. Now as a twice selected Quroa Top Writer, and my seventh book with a favorable Kirkus Review, plus 20 five-star reviews on my last book on Amazon, it hit me hard like someone kicked my family jewels. But I will tell you, it was the best $99 I ever spent. Learned a lot.
My fourth experience, Oct. 14, 2017, I paid $30 with Stage32 for an 8-minute verbal pitch with an entertainment law firm. As we’d say in the military, boy was I all “ate up.” I only got eight minutes too. I received my critique, and it wasn’t pretty, however, they loved my idea enough to ask me back for a 30-minute phone call, for free. Instead, I flew to Los Angeles and met with two of their packaging agents on Nov. 2nd, face-to-face for over an hour.
Well worth it and I’m now working with them to polish up my pilot script and show bible. They read my revised script after I applied what I learned from Coverage Ink, and returned two pages of notes on the script and the show bible about a week later. I have since updated my pilot script, resubmitted three days ago and am awaiting their response, though they have indicated they will work with me until it’s sold.
My fifth experience, Oct. 14, 2017, I paid Roadmap Writers $45 for their “First 15 Consultation” which consists of submitting the first 15 pages of my script for reading by an executive you select followed by a 15-minute phone call to review their findings. It took almost a month for this producer, with great credentials, to get back to me, and he apologized, and it was well worth the wait because when the producer did contact me, I mentioned in our email exchange not to worry about the delay that I just wish I’d sent him the revised 15 pages since my first script coverage — he had no problem with it and told me to send him the new 15 pages.
I did and when we finally talked on the phone, he had the original 15, apologized and said he’d call me back the next day to discuss the revised 15. He did, so in essence, he read 30 of my pages, old and revised. He gave me some super feedback and pointed out that for a first-time writer, he was impressed and not to stop writing. He also told me he’d be interested in seeing the polished-up script after the law firm’s help. He’s on hold.
My sixth experience, Oct. 19, 2017, I paid Stage 32, $149 for script coverage with the executive of my choice from their list. I received two pages of notes from the executive and since this was the same script I submitted to Coverage Ink, I received a similar butt whipping, though in two pages, not 16 pages of notes. Nothing new from the first script coverage, so most was old hat. However, the encouraging part of this coverage was, “Formatting-wise, it's pretty good! Looks clean and professional,” and “We all love a good biopic, and autobiographical shows are all the rage right now, so from that standpoint, it's a marketable starting point.”
A waste of money? Not at all. It validated what Coverage Ink had given me and eliminated any doubts, no matter how good I thought the first version of my script was written and proved that script coverage does work.
My seventh and eighth experience, Oct. 23, 2017, I paid Stage 32, $30 each for two, separate 8-minute pitches to the same person, a producer/manager on Oct. 28th. This producer/manager was extremely nice, but rather more interested in I write my memoirs as a book, which I've been doing before I wrote the script. She’s also a literary agent. In the end, nice conversation, with almost all “fours” on my score card and encouraging words, “You have a great premise and a strong protagonist involved in a world not often seen from the point of view of a photographer. The characters are rich and complex.” While she gave me a pass, she based that on the fact “the project needs more development,” and just kept telling me to write the book first, which I kept telling her, that's what got me to write the script, I've been writing the book for years. Encouraging and a little weird.
My ninth experience, Oct. 27, 2017, I paid Roadmap Writers $35 for an 8-minute pitch to a manager of my choice. The pitch was for the next day, and on Oct. 31, I received the following feedback from her, “What Worked: Great premise, based on real life stories, and a colorful world,” plus what could be improved. I received no score card, no pass or recommend, just two sentences, what worked, and what could be improved. Literally, two very short, short sentences. The good thing that happened that day to offset those two tiny sentences, it was the same day the entertainment law firm contacted me to move with them onto the next step in Los Angeles.
My tenth experience, Nov. 1, 2017, I paid Uber $14.31, plus tip, to get me to the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills where Variety magazine held its “inaugural summit about the business of diversity” called their “Inclusion Summit” with a fee of almost $600 to attend. A ton of speakers, from actors to producers, screen writers, directors, etc., and I found this lead through my own research and noticed that one of the speakers was director John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood, Poetic Justice, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Shaft, Four Brothers, Snowfall) and remembered that a photographer friend of mine and John are great friends. I called my buddy, who then contacted John, and John agreed to meet me at the summit.
We met in the lobby and John asked me if I was attending the event and I told him no, I hadn't paid to get in, so he grabbed me and told me to follow him in. After he spoke, we walked and talked to his vehicle, and he gave me his personal contact info to send him the script and show bible. An amazing man, extremely nice and extremely intelligent. I haven't sent anything to John because I’m waiting, at the advice of the law firm, until the script and show bible are polished, polished, polished.
My eleventh experience, Nov. 11, 2017, I paid nothing to Roadmap Writers who hosted the “PGA WEST Pitch to WIN: Seminar” at CBS studios in Studio City. I actually walked back to the place I’m staying from CBS — what’s a few miles for an old soldier? Great event and in the end, I met the owner of Roadmap, great guy, plus spent over ten minutes with one of the six guest speakers, a manager. He spoke highly of the law firm I’m involved with, and told me once they have it polished, to send it to him personally. Got a free bagel there too.
Now I know this is long, so if you got this far, I laud you. Basically, what I’m trying to illustrate are several things. One, all these websites, Stage 32 included, are at the mercy of their hosts of pitches, verbally and written, script coverage, consultations, etc., and these people have their day jobs too. So sometimes it will work, sometimes it will not, but don’t blame the websites, they are merely a platform of knowledge and information, along with contacts, for you to use, both paid and unpaid.
In the end, you have to go out and invest money, hustle, network, and meet people on top of writing. I’ve only done this four months, have put thousands of dollars into it when you consider travel and expenses plus my time. These are just my experiences as a newbie into screenwriting, as I’ve worked with reality television before, but not as a writer.