Monthly Archives: September 2013

Querying – Copyright

Take measures to copyright your script before sending it out. Copyright law differs from country to country. In general though, you can not copyright an idea only the actual execution of that idea; ie. the work. To my (non-lawyer) understanding, the mere act of creating a work brings with it the de facto copyright of that work. For legal purposes however, you want to make that copyright official.

In the US, you can register your script online at the US Copyright Office for $35 (even if you’re a foreigner). In Canada you can register online at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office – the cost is $50.

In the US, you’re asked to upload your script. Makes sense. In Canada you are not able to do so. You can’t even send it in by mail. They don’t want it. Have no place to file it. All they ask for is the title and your $50. How does this make any sense whatsoever? It doesn’t. It’s a cash grab. Other than being a record that on this day in history you copyrighted something (we’ll take you at your word) called “TITLE”, it’s a stunningly embarrassing system. That said, an entertainment attorney will tell you that as a record of something it’s better than nothing. Your call.

Speaking of being on the record. It’s important to note both the US and Canadian offices will publish your personal information on the internet right down to your address, email and phone number. Publicly and forever. So if you’re a fan of privacy and / or write things that could get you a fatwā, there is another option:

The Writer’s Guild of America West has a private online script registration service for non-members. Cost’s $20, does require you upload the work but it only lasts 5 years. That’s more time than you need before your script is queried out anyway. This doesn’t make it official in the eyes of the law the way the gov registrations do but remember, creating the work comes with it an implicit copyright anyway. All you’re trying to do beyond that is securing legal proof.

And as far as legal proof goes there’s nothing black and white about legal claims. You rarely hear of copyright cases going to trial. Most are settled out of court. I still have a drawer full of print-outs in sealed postmarked envelopes. The ultimate paranoid fail safe. Fact is, the more sources that prove you created this work before X date the safer you are.


Leave a comment

Filed under Querying Tips

Autistic or Asshole

he possibility first occurred to me a couple years ago. It was a look in the mirror, big piece of spinach in your teeth type of moment. Except the big piece of spinach is lifelong crippling social awkwardness.

I remember when the thought first entered my mind. My wife-like creature and I were discussing a mutual friend. Someone clearly affected by Asperger syndrome (a disorder on the autistic spectrum). Sadly he and his family seemed completely unaware of it even though it was clear to everyone else. Going over the traits of this disorder, I joked about just how similar they were to my own personality: Introversion, zero social grace and an affinity for detail, complexity and an ability to focus on tasks for prolonged periods of time… I looked up at Wife who tilted her head at me like a parent sympathetic yet relieved to see that her little boy was finally realizing that Santa Clause wasn’t real. She told me then, cautiously and honestly, that for a long time she’d suspected I was indeed on that spectrum myself.

The possibility was both devastating and a total relief. I never thought of myself as someone who might be clinically abnormal. But at the same time it would explain a hell of a lot. My pursuit of grandiose endeavours and my historically insensitive, judgmental and generally assoholic social behaviour for starters– It’s not that I’m some cantankerous, slovenly malcontent. Or detached idiot savant – not even close on that front. I simply lack key social instincts, though objectively I am aware of their existence. (I couldn’t write as well as I do if I were not.) None the less, learning to fake it is a continuous work in progress. Maybe the writing helps that, I don’t know.

I read David Mamet’s Bambi vs. Godzilla years ago. The closest thing to a book on screenwriting or show business that I’ve ever read. In it he wrote that the American film industry was founded by filmmakers who seemed to share a predisposition to autism; Ashkenazi Jews. This detail from Mamet’s book suddenly came rushing back to mind. Not being of that lineage myself, at the very least I could feel I was in good company. That perhaps, if nothing else, my career path wasn’t completely off base.

But Mamet’s not a psychologist. Neither am I. So I decided to take it to the professionals. Or… At least… To the internet. An online test. Sounds promising right? For what it’s worth the AQ (Autism-Spectrum Quotient) test was put together by the Cambridge Autism Research Centre. So not too shabby.

I came within one point of where 80% of people with autism score.

Like licking the spinach off my teeth and confidently turning away from the mirror unaware that there’s toilet paper stuck to the sole of my shoe, I walked away facing a new possibility: The old possibility…

That I’m not autistic at all, that I am just an asshole.

Leave a comment

Filed under Misadventures

Querying – When To Query

Your email query is going directly to an exec’s smartphone. You’re not just sending a letter. You’re tapping them on the shoulder. So when is someone most amenable to being tapped on the shoulder?

Time of Year – Holiday periods aren’t as “dead” as people think. Give or take a weekend(s) around Christmas and Hanukkah. Use common sense. There is a summer slowdown. Hit and miss depending on individual vacation times. August is the slowest month of all.

Month to Month – Be aware of upcoming film festivals. A week before and during fests like Cannes, Sundance and TIFF can be a very busy time for many execs. Moreso at production companies who actually have a hat in the ring. Research.

Weekdays – Don’t query on weekends. You may get passes on a Sunday because the reader is handing them out as he reads but that doesn’t mean they’re open for business. I never queried on Mondays. If the amount of erectile dysfunction spam I have waiting in my inbox on Monday morning is any indication of the norm, you’re lumping yourself in with the delete all crowd. I never queried on Fridays either. Tuesday never saw as many bites as Wednesday or Thursday.

Time of Day – Be mindful of time zones. Operate on the Pacific Standard clock (or Eastern if you’re hitting New York – you should know where your recipient is based). I like to hit send a few minutes before the top of the clock. Meetings are scheduled on the hour or at the half hour. Therefore, execs may find themselves “free” for a minute or two just before those meetings begin. They will spend no more than 10 seconds on your query, so that’s all the time you need.

I also factor lunch. Meaning I don’t query just before lunch. Blood sugar’s low – especially on the older guys – why risk irritating them? After someone’s eaten they’re more content, more receptive.

Crazy over-thinking? Probably. But I put this much care into my writing, why wouldn’t I do the same for my querying?

1 Comment

Filed under Querying Tips

Querying – Submission Agreements

A compromise to the ubiquitous no unsolicited submissions policy is the submission agreement. If you get a read request there’s good chance it will come with one of these. Read it. At best it’s a good initiation into legalese. At worst it’s fucking terrifying. In no uncertain terms it will say that it is in the realm of the possible that the company to which you are submitting may already have, by coincidence, a script identical – identical – to your own and therefore can produce said script without your permission.

Why would you ever sign such a document? Two reasons. One: If you don’t sign it you won’t get read. Two: These guys aren’t interested in stealing your script. They just want to protect themselves but their lawyers are paranoid savages. If they’ve got a UFO movie in development and you’re pitching a UFO movie they don’t want to be accused of plagiarism down the road. So you may think your idea is as precious as their release is scary but just remember it’s still cheaper for them to buy that script from you than try to screw you.

This isn’t just my armchair assessment. Even my entertainment lawyer has given this advice to new writers. Because when you finally do get that option agreement you’re after, the last line in that document is going to read “this agreement replaces any previous agreement blah blah blah”. Thus voiding the nasty submission paper anyway.

All this said – there are lowlifes out there. Play it safe by making sure you’re only signing submission agreements for established companies with a track record.

Leave a comment

Filed under Querying Tips

New Shoes

 bought new shoes for the film festival. I had meetings. I’ve heard there’s a certain (low) expectation of a screenwriter’s appearance among film executives. Despite this I’m pretty sure that as low as your expectations of someone’s appearance, I can dip lower.

This isn’t self deprecation. I’m nothing if not objective. I just couldn’t care less about what I’m wearing as long as it’s comfortable. To the point, it can be noted, that people have on occasion taken me aside and asked if I’m aware of the holes in my shirt. Not at a business meeting mind you. I work at home so “work clothes” has never been an issue. But I get it. There’s a not so unfounded correlation people make between shabby dress and poor hygiene. And generally poor hygiene can be correlated to some deeper  red flags about self-awareness, responsibility, even mental stability. Not a great recipe for business partnerships. My hygiene, however, is and always has been beyond reproach. But explaining all of this is not the way I want to start a meeting, thus: New Shoes.

All this to say, I was faced with crafting my version of what “a writer” should look like. But here’s the thing; if I’m going to be starting from scratch, defining myself for the first time, I don’t want to be defined only as a writer. Trite as it may sound, I’m a director, an editor too for that matter. Complete storyteller I would hope. Writing just seemed like the best way to pursue “breaking in”.

So the question was what shoe defined me as a well rounded filmmaker? And could I even believe I was having this inner monologue? I wanted to punch myself in the face. But this isn’t my world… Gotta keep reminding myself of that. Gotta don the camouflage.

Something business casual. Comfortable. No laces. Unremarkable would be great. Took me half a dozen shoe stores to find them. I know far too much about shoes now.

It was the most I’ve thought about apparel since buying my current shoes roughly 22 years ago. At that time I wanted something I could wear to school but also use to hike up mountains. The metaphor for my current situation is not lost on me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Misadventures, The Journey

Querying – Unsolicited Submissions

We do not accepted unsolicited submissions. You will see this declaration everywhere. It means don’t send us your script, it’ll be shredded and we’ll deny ever having seen it. No unsolicited submissions policies attempt to protect production companies and agencies from plagiarism claims.

But to breakdown the jargon further; technically even your query – specifically your logline – is a form of intellectual property. A mini version of your script. Sending it to a production co or agency without a request for it (a solicitation) is also an unsolicited submission. So technically query letters too should be trashed without being read.

But they’re not.

Enforcing the policy is at the discretion of the individual rep. Far from an impenetrable gate. Catch the right rep at the right time with the right pitch and even the most unapproachable shop can be (and has been) penetrated. So don’t let the declarations dissuade you. But don’t harass people either.

Leave a comment

Filed under Querying Tips

Querying – Format

I can’t speak for others. I’ve evolved a couple query letter formats that have netted me reads. They each contain five components: Greeting, Genre, Logline, Achievements and Contact Info. My first format is in that order. In my second format I go from Greeting to Achievements right away. I used the second style primarily in targeting agents. As salespeople, I’m guessing they may value track record over a straight up unsolicited pitch. It was a way of keeping them reading.

Greeting: Anything that starts with an “H” is your greeting.
Genre: Sometimes even the most well crafted logline might still seem nebulous as far as genre. Stick to the basic categories: Comedy, Action, Horror, Thriller, Family etc. Don’t over qualify. Every adjective is a liability. Don’t like to label your work? Go back to Brooklyn.
Logline: One line to summarize your entire script.
Achievements: Writing related credits. Awards. Placements. Have none? Then ignore this part. Don’t try to force it. If you’ve done your job with the logline this portion is gravy anyway .
Contact Info: This means a full name and a phone number. Don’t be coy or timid. Professionalism.

Now just form all this into a few carefully crafted cohesive sentences that run a forth the length of this entire blog post; because if I were a film executive I’d be bored shitless by now.

Leave a comment

Filed under Querying Tips