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Monday, November 3, 2008

Tools of the Trade

The other day we talked about the fact that as a writer, you ARE a business. You need to promote your business, fine-tune it and understand the market for what you're selling. You also need to make sure that you have all the niceties figured out as well. The little things. Like leaving a message that is intelligible. Or having a business card that is not lame.*

So here is a check list that may be helpful:

Thank You Notes
Real, paper thank you notes, folks, not thank you emails. Not goofy thank you notes with balloons and dogs on them but simple, classy notes. Get them. And use them. Send them to people you meet at pitch fests, at general screenwriting events, to people like me or one of my colleagues if we help you with something. This is a business based on relationships. Never forget that for one minute. And a real thank you note will be very memorable to the recipient.

A Normal Email Address
Is your email something like Change it. Have a business email address that is simple, easy to spell, easy to type and memorable. I cannot tell you the weird email addresses I see. Choose something very simple and easy so that it's easier to write down, say over the phone or whatever. Be professional. *

*if this post inspires anyone on my newsletter emailing list to change their email address, please email my assistant, Chaia with your new email address.

A Number Where You Can Be Reached
Does your four year-old answer your phone there at home? Then use a different number. If you have a cell phone that is exclusively yours, put that number on your contact information. Make sure it has a professional sounding message on it, not music or anything else. Speak clearly. Check your messages frequently.

Always Put Your Contact Information on the Title Page of Your Script
ALWAYS, people. Every. Single. Time. I know for most of you this is a no-brainer. I can't tell you how often I get scripts submitted to The Script Department sans contact information. Very annoying. And it just could be the one, annoying thing that stops someone from phoning you up with good news.

Business Cards

We've gone over this in the past, but get some very simple business cards printed up with your name and contact information. Bring your cards to every event you attend. Have them at the ready.

Leaving Messages

If you leave a message for someone in the industry, please don't rattle off your phone number so fast that the recipient of your message can't write it down. Speak slowly. Your name, why you're calling and your number. Here's the cadence that works for me when I'm writing down a message: Hey Julie, this is John Roberts. We met at the (blank) event last week. I can be reached at area code 323 (pause) 555 (pause) 0264. Once again, this is John Roberts and I can be reached at 323 (pause) 555 (pause) 0264. As opposed to messages I receive quite frequently: Hey Julie this is (mumble mumble, sounds like Frank-n-smith-n-heimer) we met at the (mumble mumble screenwriting thing last year) and my number is 3235550264bye. HUH? If I have ever not called you back, that's why. I couldn't understand your message. Please make it easy for the person transcribing your message. Slow. Down.

Office Supplies
Please use normal brads. And get a good three-hole punch. Use good, reliable pens and write clearly on your letter/material. Put stamps on the normal way, not the I'm-in-a-special-class way. If you're sending in a treatment that's under 20 pages, staple the pages - never send loose pages. If your treatment is more than that - three hole punch it and use brads. TWO BRADS. Don't use three brads and don't use weird brads. Just normal, brass brads that aren't too long or too flimsy. Go to The Writer's Store online if you can't find them in your area.

I advocate the use of Final Draft, because it's the most commonly used software and it's easier to send files using it. But if you do use a different program, save your script as a PDF and be prepared to send your script in that format. If you don't know what PDF stands for, brush up on your knowledge of software. I'm no tech genius but these are the basic tools of sending your script electronically which is done more and more these days. Do not type or send your scripts in Word or a similar word-processing software. It makes you look like an amateur and is almost impossible to format on the other end. If you want to be a career screenwriter, make a small investment in your software and your knowledge of it.

Your Equipment
How's your computer working out for you these days? Are you backing up your files? (See my cautionary tale of just yesterday). Do you have the latest update of your writing software, internet browser and email program? Do you have a fax machine, copier and scanner? Are you prepared to jot off a release form promptly, when asked? Making an investment in your equipment is key. And for you absolute geniuses who type on a 1957 Olivetti in your attic and eschew all of this stuff, good luck to you. I'm sure you're brilliant.

The Interwebs
That's what snarky people call the internet when referring to yokels who don't know who to use it. Snarky people like me. Well, maybe we're shooting for irony. But I digress. The internet. Figure. It out. Click on new sites and blogs relative to screenwriting. Surf that stuff. Visit the websites of screenwriting services and software companies. Be aware of the resources available to you so you can stop emailing me asking for every script ever produced. Oh, uh, sorry - little personal side story there. The world is at your fingertips. When you call or otherwise contact a professional or organization, be it me, be it Final Draft or Creative Screenwriting or millions more, please have done your homework. Read the website first. Click around some. Inform yourself. Because it's really annoying when people email with lazy questions, the answer to which is already on the site.

In the Entertainment Industry there are so many odd, clashing interests and subtle mores that sometimes seem to conflict and contradict. But at the end of the day, everybody is looking for content. EVERYBODY wants it, okay? I cannot stress that enough. And you got it. But at the same time, everybody is looking for one, easy reason to dismiss you and move on to the next writer and the next script. An annoying, complicated email address, mumbled messages, sloppy looking scripts, three brads, bad breath and dandruff - you name it. Content is King but it also arrives in Hollywood late at night, in packed to the gills rail cards. Hundreds of scripts, thousands of scripts, chug into Hollywood on a daily basis. So there's no shortage of material. It's about sifting through it to find the gems.

Hollywood is a giant mining operation. Every day - BWOOOOOP - the horn blows, everybody puts on their mining hats and descends into the mining shaft with picks. Do you want your script chucked into the dirt pile because your contact information wasn't on it? Or because it was sent in a Word file and is 228 pages long? Or because you left a message that was unintelligible? Of course not. So go over this checklist and see what you've got and how prepared you are. Remember, they don't call it showfriends. Hollywood is unlike any other business in the world and yet at the same time (I told you there are contradictions) it's exactly like all other businesses. Be prepared, be polite and be professional. Have the latest software and a working knowledge of the internet. Because if you don't - someone else does. And their script will be on the top of the pile. No, you aren't such a genius that thank you notes, pithy email addresses or non-crack-pipe messages don't apply to you.

*lame business cards include: photo-shop images of balloons, ice cream, monsters, your original artwork, pull-quotes from your script or favorite movie, a headshot of you, (unless you're an actor), bright colors, rainbows, pictures of your pets or kids, etc. All real examples, by the way.

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millar prescott said...

Julie - Great post as usual. What email newsletter?

Anonymous said...

Remember you can buy printer paper that is already 3-hole punched. So you don't even have to mess with punching it.
~ Trina

Emily Blake said...

All good stuff. Except - why is it better to have two brads? I've never understood that.

Third World Girl said...

My faith was kind of waning in the thank you note, especially since after all that effort they can disappear into the ether without a response. And they can seem sort of old-fashioned. (I'm ashamed to say my family and friends all get e-cards on their birthdays now.)

But this post will make me keep on keeping on for a little longer.

Thanks Julie.

Julie Gray said...

Hey Emily :)

Two brads are better than three for one of two reasons: one, the brads are usually promptly removed from your script when a reader goes over it and it's easier to remove two brads and secondly, three brads binds the script too tightly, making it harder to read the pages if it is left bound. It's just a convenience thing.

Seth Fortin said...

This was an incredibly useful post. I just added an email address on Gmail that's a little more "normal" than my personal one. Gmail's nice because the new address is almost invisible -- there's a pull-down menu on the "From" line of my emails now, and if I need the more business-like address, I can choose it. And if someone emails that business address, it comes straight to my personal address's mailbox. All seamless.

Also, regarding phone messages -- when I was a young PA, I worked for a woman whose voicemail would literally only record for 30 seconds before cutting you off. Taught me to be very concise and direct.

Sam said...

I have a story about thank you notes, since they have been mentioned in the Rouge Wave a few times recently. They are old fashioned polite, which people don't seem to do much anymore. But I was brought up that way and that's the way I am!

I have a business acquaintance who I'll call Mr G for the sake of ease. Mr G and I have had business for couple of years and both love movies, discuss them, debate them, recommend them etc. We discuss my scripts and I run stories by him. He asked to read my first feature-length effort, which I was happy to let him do.

A few weeks later Mr G said to me, I hope you don't mind, but I've passed your script onto one of my clients who is in the industry, Christian Bale. (This was during the filming of the most recent Batman.) Christian Bale had my first script, and we all know, first scripts suck!!! I was beside myself with excitement and embrassment, but Mr G assured me that Christian had offered to have a look over the script and give me some pointers. Mr G said he's a good guy, doesn't pay lip service, and Mr G told him to be completely honest with me.

A couple of months passed and nothing was heard, I did a second draft and then wrote my second script. I saw the improvements in my writing and realised how amateur my first script was. So I thought, what can I do here? I can't get it back, I don't know when Mr G will see Christian again (cross-Atlantic filming schedule - you know how it is). I know, I'll write him a thank you letter and at the same time let the poor chap off the hook!

So I did just that - I handwrote a polite letter basically saying thanks for your offer of looking over my script, even though you are so busy and I know you work with some of the best writers around (like the Nolans). I love writing and have written my second script and can see I've got a lot to learn! My first script is not that good, but I will soldier on! (paraphrasing here, I didn't keep a copy of the letter). I wished him well and signed off.

I gave the letter to Mr G and said please don't feel obliged to hand it over to Christian, you may read it (so you can see I'm not a nutty stalker). Mr G just happend to see Christian the next day and gave him my letter.

Mr G received a call from Christian a few weeks later saying, that was a really nice note that lady wrote to me, I remember her script, can I have her number?

Christian Bale asked for my number. Can I just repeat that? Christian Bale asked for my number.

Mr G gave it to him...

I sat on my phone, day and night, for weeks. But I didn't hear anything from Christian (he was quite busy promoting 3:10 to Yuma at the time, as Mr G would tell me when I lamented the lack of calls).

To this day he hasn't phoned. But I don't mind, do you know why? The encouragement it gave me to know that Christian Bale remembered my script enough to ask for my number. When I feel a bit down about my writing I remember that. And what reminded him about my script was my thank you letter, spontaneously and sincerely written, with no expectations or agenda.