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Old 10-19-2016, 10:09 AM   #1
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 587
Default Pay To Play

Hey all. Im just curious how others feel about the growing cottage industry wherein aspiring screenwriters are being encouraged to pony up a fee in order to get a foot in the door. A few years ago, about the closest to this you could point to would be pitch fests and contests, but now there are so many services pushing fellowships, mentorships, webinars, development services, more contests with access/exposure featured as a prize, and on and on and on all for a price.

It feels to me that when agents started to become less accessible that led to the rise of managers, and now with managers generally having become less accessible, this is the next natural extension (or layer, or barrier even depending how you view it). Basically its another way writers are being expected to pay money in the hope of one day actually making some. And the participants on the industry side are often being paid to participate from the industry side, with no guarantee any good will ever come of it for the writer. In some cases it now counts as an actual prize to be signed by a manager, which can easily amount to nothing depending on how that shakes out after having paid for the perceived privilege of even being considered.

I guess this business of tapping aspiring writers more and more as a cash cow just seems unsettling to me. And yeah, sometimes you have to invest in yourself, and I get that and I have spent plenty, but its starting to feel like more and more a requirement, and a lot more expensive than it used to be.

Thoughts? Opinions?
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Old 10-19-2016, 11:10 AM   #2
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: under a chocolate fountain
Posts: 1,419
Default Re: Pay To Play

It should not be a requirement.
Don't let people take advantage of you.

Worth the money: attending events (free or paid) where you will network, meet people and get something in return: see good movies, learn useful info from panelists, etc. Examples: film festivals, conferences with quality panels, maybe a workshop or retreat with well-known (or at least very knowledgeable) speakers. (Realize that the networking is going to be most useful with people at your own level. Shane Black always said you all meet and then when one gets in, he helps the next one over the fence, etc. But yeah, you could meet agents and managers and such at these things.)
The Austin Film Festival is expensive but you absolutely get your bang for your buck. You meet other writers and filmmakers at your level and then get to hear speakers share insight about the craft and the industry. I have learned more via AFF than via any screenwriting class I've taken, and I've met friends that have been a) fun b) helpful and c) good sounding boards, etc.

LA Pitchfest: some people knock paying for pitches because these are mostly assistants who attend, but I found it useful. Just take it as an experience rather than an all-or-nothing make-it-or-break-it kind of thing. Pilar Allesandra had a really helpful seminar on pitching and log lines and there was a really interesting explanation of how TV is funded, etc. and then frankly it's useful just to see how someone reacts when you're telling them about your story.

Blacklist: See the threads.

Other festivals: if it's near your home and easy to attend, why not go? If it's far away but you have the time and money and it has a great reputation, it might be worth it.

Contests: again, see the threads. Most people agree the bigger names are better. Some will argue that WINNING is the only thing that matters. Others will say skip contests and just query. Others say don't query, no one reads them. It's a catch 22. If you have the money it might not kill you to enter.

Script consultants: Depends on your situation. Many people advocate having friends (screenwriters) who will read and you read theirs. Other people say your friends will never be objective enough. If you're starting out and not taking classes, an inexpensive coverage or consultation might be worth it because the feedback will probably be more useful than your random friend's feedback. I personally can't imagine what these $1000 consultants do that would be that much better than the $100 reader who works at a studio or agency and does this in her spare time. I have used Amanda the Aspiring Writer and she gets the notes back in a week and they're honest. More expensively, there's Jen Grisanti who has worked in television for years and works with NBC Writers on the Verge. There are plenty of others out there. Austin Film Festival gives coverage for about $100.

The rest of it? I'd say save your money. Put it into your writing, your films, or your ability to attend useful festivals.

The BOTTOM LINE truly is (and people don't really want to admit this but it's just so freaking true...) There are fewer working screenwriters than NFL players. There aren't very many buyers left in film. Movies are harder than ever to get set up and most of them are based on existing IP. TV is where the jobs are. Someone said that there are 400 shows staffing right now. They kind of literally don't have to have enough writers. So you should probably be writing pilots and specs and focusing on either entering writing programs or moving to LA. You have to be in LA to work on a TV staff. I have encountered a few who haven't, but generally that's the deal.

You want to know where to direct your money? Move to LA and get a little crappy film job (or, hey, get an awesome film job!) and start making friends in the industry. If you can't do that, make friends in the industry however you can and keep up with them. Or make your own film. Something.

Take all this with a grain of salt, but it's my 2 cents.

Last edited by cvolante : 10-19-2016 at 11:37 AM.
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Old 10-19-2016, 03:09 PM   #3
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 441
Default Re: Pay To Play

Originally Posted by cvolante View Post

Take all this with a grain of salt, but it's my 2 cents.

Yeah. More like 2 million cents.

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Old 10-19-2016, 05:52 PM   #4
Join Date: Jun 2015
Posts: 160
Default Re: Pay To Play

I find the whole idea to be highly unethical. It preys upon people's hopes and dreams.

Not many businesses last when 99.9% of their customers come away with nothing for their money. But these can, because people are so desperate they just keep forking money over.

Cvolante is correct in the assertion that by a very wide margin, the best way to break in is to know somebody. Whether that's being born into a situation where your family just has some connection or you get a job and work your way in, it's how virtually everyone does it. If you listen to agents and managers talk about where they get their clients, it's almost exclusively by referral.

Unfortunately some people don't have the option to come work in LA. You really have to decide to do that early on. Nobody is hiring a 40 year old assistant in Hollywood. And you need some kind of financial well to draw from due to all the free work you're required to do before you can land that coveted minimum wage position. Hence the boom of the pay-to-play industry, for those who can't go the assistant route.

It does work for some people at least. Terence Winter got his break in the Warner Bros. workshop after all. But the odds are a real longshot.
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Old 10-20-2016, 06:51 AM   #5
Join Date: Mar 2006
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Default Re: Pay To Play

For what it's worth, I was a 36 year old intern (sounds like the title of a really terrible book, eh?) and I got a lot out of it. I went on to be an apprentice and then did odd jobs in both indie film and then as an extra on bigger productions/network TV, etc. I learned a lot and didn't pay for film school. In fact, they paid me to be an extra so I was paid to be on set. If you're polite and not a spaz (I am inherently a spaz, but I tried to be a normal person) they will let you hang around video village and explain what's going on and how everything works, etc.

Not everyone can swing that stuff. I certainly balked at the pay + time for being an extra and the idea of moving to another state mostly because there was an opportunity to be an intern at a production company I loved, but compare that to taking a few years off to go to film school and the whole 36 year old intern thing worked out well for me.

Last edited by cvolante : 10-24-2016 at 06:44 AM.
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Old 10-24-2016, 04:28 AM   #6
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Default Re: Pay To Play

Just to add to cvolante - always network at festivals, lots of really interesting and useful people hang out at festivals. It's one of the cheapest ways of making valuable contacts.
"Friends make the worst enemies." Frank Underwood
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