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  • Perception is Reality

    February 26th, 2011

    By Daniel Manus

    The key to getting someone to like your script…is finding someone else who likes it first. Hollywood is an institution that runs on word of mouth and is basically based on jealousy, insecurity, and the need to prove oneself.  So the best way to entice someone to read your script is by creating the perception that it’s a hot piece of material.

    What – you mean just lie?  Noooo, not LIE. Not…exactly. It’s just using the truth to your advantage.

    Subconsciously, people will be more hesitant to say something sucks when they know someone else loved it.  

    But the person who loved it has to matter – it can’t be your family, friends, trusted writers group or anyone on your payroll. One of the biggest turn-offs for me is when a writer tells me they gave their script to their kids and colleagues to read and everyone loved it. Now, instead of creating the perception that someone in the industry likes your work, you have created the perception that you are so far removed from the industry that you actually think that matters.  It doesn’t.  

    But I digress…

    Do you know why some of the scripts on the Blacklist were so well-liked? It’s because the writers were rep’d by powerful agents and managers – and they must know what they’re talking about…right? Some were well-known, A-List, produced writers…so what they write has to be good…right?  Some scripts tackled really important subject matter – so it must be powerfully written…right? 

    Well that’s the perception so it must be true…right?

    Personally, I thought there were a few downright shitty scripts on the Blacklist this year (I will cover the Blacklist in more detail in a future column).

    Do you know why so much shit gets made in Hollywood? Because someone important with bad taste reads the script and likes it, and so many others just fall in suit.  Or because when it’s dressed up and advertised as something GREAT, you feel like an idiot if you think it sucks – and no one ever wants to be the one to rock the boat in a room full of execs that “love” a script – so they keep quiet and shit gets made that no one actually thought was good.

    The studio exec doesn’t want to piss off the agent, so he says it’s great even though he hated it. The agent tells the junior executive their boss loved it, so the jr. exec is forced to say they loved it too. Now a script is being developed that everyone actually hated.

    So, what’s the key? Make your shit look and sound great. FOOL people.

    There’s a trick producers use to garner interest in their projects from studios and/or talent. We’ll call up a TALENT AGENT and pitch our script for one of their clients and they request it.  Then, we call up STUDIO GUY and pitch them the same script, except now we get to say that A-List Actor Man is currently reading it. So the studio requests it. We hear back from the agent that they like the project but want to know where the money is. We tell them that Studio Guy really likes the script (which is a pre-mature stretch, but they liked the pitch and requested the script, so whatever). Great. So, we call back the studio and tell them that A-List Actor Man really likes the project and is interested (he’s not yet, but his agent is – and that’s good enough). Now, the studio is even more interested in the project because they see the packaging opportunities.

    No one ever said they want to make the script or that their client even read it – but they requested it and have shown some level of interest in the project. So we leverage that perceived interest to garner interest from others. And that’s what you should be doing.

    There was a script called “Pierre, Pierre” which sold in 2008 for a MILLION dollars. It now has Jim Carrey attached. And it’s awful. Awful. But Ivan Reitman liked it and attached himself, and it sold. Reitman has since fallen out, but this was one of those projects that most execs actually hated, but we didn’t want to seem like the stupid kid in class who didn’t “get it” – so we all said it was brilliant.

    It’s all about perception. Advertising executives learned this a long time ago – People like what they are told to like.  If someone more important than you liked the script, then there must be something you’re not seeing, right? You don’t want to look stupid, so you say you like it too…and it goes from there.

    The Amazon Studios screenwriting contest recently announced their first winners, and one of their winners is a man named Richard Stern, who was VERY active on many boards and websites talking positively about the contest and (in a not-so-subtle way), was promoting his script and talking about how he’s gotten really high ratings and votes and people seem to like it. This caused anyone reading his posts to go check it out and if they saw that 100 people voted it the best, chances are…they will vote that way too.  And guess what – he won! He created the perception (whether true or not) that his script was a favorite so far and people really liked it (btw, it is a good script).

    You have to hype your script without overhyping. Tell people that so-and-so really liked the script, but don’t tell them it’s the greatest script ever written – you can’t live up to that hype.

    There is a bias against first time writers who aren’t rep’d and who live in bumblefuck towns outside of LA or NY. There just is. So…what should you do about that?

    Well, if you’re at a pitchfest or just making cold calls, there is an easy way to hype your script and change the perception of your work. First, don’t tell them you’re NOT from LA. Second, tell them you used to be represented. If or when they ask which agency, you can tell them it was just a small boutique agency that doesn’t exist anymore or a small agency outside of LA (and that’s why you left). They really won’t know the difference. Just make sure you have a plan for what you’re going to say. And third, slip into conversation (in a subtle and natural way) that so-and-so over at such-and-such company requested the script already.

    If you cold-call a company and they tell you they don’t take unsolicited scripts, say something like, “Oh ok, no problem, I understand,  I had just been talking with THIS other company and they requested it, so I thought I would give you guys a try as well.” This MAY make them think twice before hanging up. If you hear them pause or say “oh…well…um…” – that’s your cue to give them one final push on the script in a nice, polite and professional manner. You’ve made them rethink their policy concerning your script, now you have 10 seconds to capitalize.

    Companies who know that they are competing for a project are more likely to request it, read it quickly, and get back to you. It’s the basis of how and why the spec market was created and worked for so long. And it creates the perception that you and your project are something special. And in Hollywood, perception is reality.

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