If you’ve been around the screenwriting industry for any length of time, you will undoubtedly have seen someone run a “Pay-to-Play” contest for screenwriters. They position themselves as folks with contacts that do something with your script. They pretend to know people, pretend have magic powers to influence film studios to stop what they’re doing and produce your script. The truth is they are scamming you out of money.
You might think they are there to steal your idea. They indeed have that ability, but in reality it is just a method to rob you of your hard earned money. FinalDraft, the makers of one of the most popular screenwriting products (and a product we exclusively use) is running a contest in June 2020. They want you to pay them $55 per script with ZERO guarantees about what will happen to your content post submission.
If you are inclined to believe the hype, we recommend you have your content copyrighted somewhere. However, also know that they can steal your base premise and special scenes without penalty. We have seen official scripts written by legendary director / writers get stolen, changed and sent to final production without a chance to recoup a dime.
You might think a submission without payment is a safe alternative. Better yet, you might think that signing an official looking contract will guarantee some movement. You might hear a pitch that positions the contract author / agency / or manger as a person who can only earn money if you succeed. Our advice is to get everything checked by a recommended attorney with no association with the agency. We have also found that attorneys without an entertainment background will evaluate a contract with a more suspicious eye.
Once an agency gets control over our intellectual property, you may never see a dime for your hard work. Be extremely careful to examine the pipeline of how a successful deal would transpire if indeed the agency finds someone interested.
The Facts About Agents
Agencies like William Morris or CAA come with serious track records with studios. All agencies and or individuals representing you should have previous successes. Big agencies have the power to influence a film studio out of their current thinking and into something fresh. Small agencies have to wait out front of the studio for bread crumbs in hopes that they can arrange a meeting to fulfill a genre slot with existing content. MOST CAN’T.
Studios have plans for years. They decide what is going to be hot today (something you can’t write for) and what will be hot tomorrow (something you can strive for). Very few agencies have the ability to meet with the studios on a daily basis to get the lay of the land for the next two to five years. Big agencies will be invited to craft the future and make decisions about what might work and what won’t. All others have to know someone in the industry and pray that somehow they have the hot script to punch through the others.
Always remember that the big agencies have bigger bills, more staff, and better relationships in terms of backend points than little agencies. They will therefore seldom reach out to smaller players and risk losing more revenue in the process. Agencies do network with each other, but they have a small list of folks they trust, which is why working with a professional service like ours can ensure you create a solid product that will be seen by the top in the industry.