S2 E20 – What Writers Need to Know to Avoid Getting Scammed by Hollywood
I was recently contacted by an editor on Facebook Messenger, asking for my feedback on a deal that somebody was trying to make with her client. Apparently they were offering really huge option terms on the gal's novel, like $350,000, which is ridiculous. And then they added, "But everybody has to pay the casting director $3,000." Everybody was being required to pay the casting director for casting. I mean it's just unbelievable how horrible this is. I answered her, "This is a scam. Run run run run, and then report them because this is absolutely a scam."
But this is not the first time I've been asked about things like this, so I thought I would take a moment to explain how writers can avoid getting scammed by offers like these, and what red flags to look at to know the person isn't legit. If somebody comes to you and claims to be a producer who wants to option your script or your novel, what should you expect? What do these things even mean? What are some of the basic terms and procedures of the entertainment industry that writers should know so that they can avoid getting ripped off?
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THE STORYTELLER’S MISSION WITH ZENA DELL LOWE
S2 E20. What Writers Need to Know to Avoid Getting Scammed by Hollywood
Published January 13, 2022
INTRO: Hello, and welcome to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena, Dell Lowe, a podcast for artists and storytellers about changing the world for the better through story.
TOPIC INTRODUCTION: So recently, I got a message from a friend of mine on Facebook Messenger, asking for my feedback on a deal that somebody was trying to make with one of her clients. Apparently, the people in question were offering really huge option terms, like $350,000 for this person's novel, which is ridiculous. And then they added, "But everybody would have to pay the casting director $3,000." So everybody was being required to pitch in and pay the casting director to cast the film. This kind of thing is unbelievable. Because this is such a ripoff. What was happening to her client was a complete scam. So I answered and said, "No, this is a scam. Run, run, run, run, run. And then report them. It is an absolute scam."
But this is not the first time I've been asked to speak up about things like this, or that I've been asked about things like this. So I thought it would be worthwhile to take a little bit of time and explain how does the business work? How does the film industry work? What is the order? What are the terms? What are the expectations? How do you get an independent project made? If somebody comes to you and claims to be a producer who wants to option your script or novel, what should you expect? What is legitimate for you to expect? Why would they option it? What does that even mean? Is it a purchase? What are these things? And what are some of the basic terms and procedures of the entertainment industry, so that writers who are either working in the entertainment industry, or who are outside of the entertainment industry, but want their novels to be made into a movie, don't get ripped off, don't get scammed, and so that they also don't miss out on legitimate opportunities, because they're too afraid of getting ripped off. So you need to understand some basics of the business.
PRESENTATION: Now before I go into that, I want to share a couple of other things that have come up over the last year or so where I've been asked to weigh in on something. A friend of mine reached out to me about an opportunity that she'd been offered by a company called access media group about the "Hollywood screenplay project." Now, this claimed to be owned by a guy named Ron Curtis. If he's a real person, Shame on him, and he said that her recent book caught his eye. And as they narrow down the list to present potential films to financiers, they wanted to include it on that list. So Ron said they'd come across her book in a catalogue and offered her a chance to be interviewed by Rick Bratton on This Week in America, which was broadcast to 10 million people; available for her to post anywhere. Additional promotion provided by Ron's company, normally 3k she could get it for just $1,500. Regarding the Hollywood screenplay project, Ron said that they would create a screenplay to present to 4000 Hollywood execs; listed all the big names in Hollywood. Normally 10k, but she could get it for just 3k. He sent a few This Week in America broadcasts, which shows Rick Bratton with a wide variety and range of contacts and guests and millions of viewers. This part felt very alluring to her, like a carrot hanging from the proverbial stick, even though she felt like he'd been reading from a script the whole time.
So writers: please hear me on this. This is a scam. A scam scam, scam scam scam. This is not how Hollywood works. This man and his company are not legit. Do not be tricked into giving anyone like this your money.
And there's a couple of indications here, a couple of language usages that are just dead giveaways, indicators that it's a scam. Like, we're going to "create" a screenplay. I mean, that's just not the right language for this. Also, the fact that he found her book in a catalogue. That's not where legitimate producers are looking for viable film project material. He probably hadn't even read it. He just saw that she was an author who had a novel, probably assumed (because who wouldn't want their novel turned into a feature film?), and so she was an easy target that they were trying to scam.
So here's the thing. If you have to pay for someone to represent you, it's a scam. Just know that off the top of the stack. If you have to pay for somebody to represent you, it is a scam. That's just not how Hollywood works.
If you're an actor, an agent gets 10% of whatever you make on a project. So they get paid after you book a job. You do not pay them to represent you. If you are looking for a screenwriting agent, same thing, they get paid when you book a job. You do not have to pay them to represent you; they are commission based. Managers are the same thing. They get paid when you book something. They get paid out of whatever you're getting paid. If you're a novelist, publishers, they'll pay you for the project, you don't pay them to publish it. If they want to produce it, a producer will pay you for your project, not the other way around. You, as a writer, should never have to pay a casting director. You, as the writer, should never have to pay for any of the production. That is not your job. You should be paid. Now, here's the thing. You also need to understand what is a realistic amount of money, how does the business work, so that you're not having these unrealistic expectations, because a lot of people think that they're going to get paid a million dollars, or $100,000, or $50,000, for someone to just option, either a novel or a screenplay, in order for them to try to develop it into a future project. And that's just not realistic, because it's not how the business works. So you're not going to get paid a ton for an option. Nevertheless, you shouldn't have to pay anything.
I recently had an author friend reach out to me about a new company called Taleflicks. Now, Taleflicks is promoting itself heavily to authors on Facebook and other social media platforms. And it's supposedly the go-to place for getting your book in front of industry executives, you know, legitimate film and TV connections, producers, possible production companies, all those types of things. The question is, is this a scam to get authors to fork out money in the hopes of seeing their books turn into movies? Or is it something real? Now, I looked up Taleflicks, because you always have to do research on these kinds of matters. And here are a few conclusions I've drawn based on a relatively modest amount of research. And anyone considering using any company like this should do their own research and draw their own conclusions. So, yes, it seems "legit" in that it's a real company with real Hollywood people behind it, who have legit credits and a legit purpose for their business model. So I think they really are trying to solve an existing challenge within the industry. Taleflicks is their supposed solution. The essential problem, though, is that they are primarily targeting authors. They're charging $88 per title for an author to upload something to the database, which Taleflicks supposedly then curates and evaluates, offering only the best to the companies using their site. Now, the problem is that if companies aren't using the service, well, it does author's little good. And yet, it doesn't seem like Taleflicks is actively pursuing or seeking producers or production companies to use their site. So you can see the problem here. The fact that they are primarily going after authors says something about their priorities and their probable profits.
On the other hand, the company only launched in August of 2018. So before they will be able to attract credible production companies, they must first have a fairly robust library of IP projects available for producers to choose from. And that means targeting authors first, so perhaps it's not as sketchy as it seems. However, it is now 2022. And when I was approached about this, it was 2019. So that was four years since I came into contact with Taleflicks for the first time. Problem is, nothing's changed. And I have yet to see a really legitimate project come out of that, or any indication that that's happening. Now, it might be, I don't know, and I haven't updated a lot of my research. The idea itself might have merit; it attempts to fill a legitimate need in the marketplace, because guess what? Producers would love to have great quality novels that they could turn into movies, because it means it's less of a risk to them. If they have something that got published, it means somebody thought it was worthwhile, it's less of a risk to the producer or to the production company. And so they may want to explore that idea and turn it into a movie. But authors considering this platform ought to do so cautiously. Because from what I can tell, it really is targeting just authors, which means it's trying to make money off of authors without offering something legitimately possible to get their films made, or to get their novels made into movies. The bottom line is, it's too soon to know if it's going to be a legitimate service for writers or authors, or producers.
So again, even with something like this, which has some legitimate merit to it -- it's not charging $3,000 to help the casting director, which is crazy -- even with something potentially legitimate like this, where the price is much, much lower, it's still just so easy for writers to get ripped off.
So the million dollar question is, how do you get your project made, or at least considered to be made? If you're a writer of a novel, or if you're a writer of a screenplay, and you have a viable project that you would like to get in front of the actual people that could make it, how does that happen? What are the steps that you have to go through?
Now, here's the thing: not all of the services offered are in fact scams. For example, I personally have found, as a screenwriter, if I write a spec script (meaning nobody's paying me to write that, it's an original idea and I have something), one of the things I like to do is submit it to film festivals. Because film festivals often have screenplay writing contests. And I want to A.) see if my project will compete in the marketplace; if it's good enough; if it wins. If it wins, even if it places at some of these big competitions, then I know I have a viable project that is going to also then give me some credentials, some credibility to be able to submit it to the right people. But it costs me something to enter into those competitions. Nevertheless, that's a legit way to get some viable credit. Or if you don't have people attached to your project and you want to get a production company to read your script, one way to do that is to say, "Hey, it's won this many screenplay awards," or whatever the case may be, in which case, they might give it a look. They might actually accept a submission from you to consider your project. So that costs money, but it's not a scam.
Okay, so the point is, that most of the time, and just hear me on this... Most of the things that you're being probably bombarded with as a writer are probably going to be scams. And they certainly are if they're asking for an exorbitant amount of money. Just know, if it's a lot of money, it's a scam. They're trying to target writers who don't know how the business works. They're trying to rip off their money. So you don't want to be that person. But there are some services. And that's the difference. There are some services. But even that, you can't tell always, because again, that one guy said he was offering a service, but then everybody had to pay the casting director. That was not legit. Right? But this, the Taleflicks might be legit. I don't know, it's too early to say. Film festivals are a service. They're legit. So you have to do the research to know whether or not it's a legit service, whether or not people are actually benefiting from it, and what you're trying to get from it. That's a huge, huge thing. I do script critiques. That's an important part of my business. I offer script critiques to people, but I charge for them. And so you would have to pay me to evaluate your script. Sometimes people pay me to just evaluate their novels to see if it's worthy of being made into a screenplay or if they should even pursue trying to get their novel into the right hands of somebody in Hollywood. Is it visual enough? Is it a good enough story? Because not all stories are very good when they're translated or adapted into screenplay format. Not every novel can be adapted into a screenplay. Some of them are just not well suited. So, sometimes you want to get an evaluation and see. But again, that is a different kind of service that is legit. And if you don't have a lot of experience adapting a novel into a screenplay, I can give you the nuts and bolts of what you need to do. I can also help direct people to certain people. But that's not promised or guaranteed. That's just, "Hey, if I happen to know somebody that's in a position to help, and I think your project is legit, then I may refer you." But that's not what you're paying for. That's just something I might offer on the side. What you're only getting from my service is an evaluation of the project, if it would make a legitimately good film, and if it would, what are the things that would have to happen in order for that to happen? That's all you're getting from me. And you're paying me for that, because it will save you a bunch of time, energy wasted, if you do that.
So, the point is that there are certain things that are services that might help you to determine whether or not your project is legitimate and should be considered for film. And those might cost you something, but they're not going to cost you a ton. But most of the time, if people are asking you to pay for representation, or to get your stuff in front of a big producer -- like, that's a number one turn off; do not pay anybody if they're offering to get it in front of the right people. Because guess what? If the right people are really looking for your kind of material, they're going to come to you, they're going to want your project, you won't have to pay to try to get your stuff in front of them. And most of the time, the people that are asking to be paid don't have access to those people anyway. So it's a ripoff.
Alright, so this particular episode was basically about reviewing some of the "opportunities" out there and some of the offers that you might come across; some of the ways that people are going to try to scam you. So that you know right away. If you see these things, red flag, run, run, run, scam, scam, scam, and you can also reach out to me. I'm completely available to people for that kind of thing.
INVITATION: If you have somebody offer you something and you just don't know if it's legit, please do. I just want to protect writers. I don't want to see you ripped off. I also don't want to see you miss out on an opportunity. So you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can just ask, "Hey, this opportunity came along. Is this legit?" And I'll do my best to help you figure that out for no charge. Alright? For no charge.
CLOSING REMARKS: Now, on the other hand, there are other things that you need to know about how the business works. So if you join me on the next episode, I'm going to break down for you how in the world does Hollywood work so that you can learn to think for yourself and navigate this complicated world of entertainment for yourself.
OUTRO: In the meantime, I hope this has been helpful. And I want to thank you for joining me on The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe May you go forth inspired to change the world for the better through story.