Sunday, February 21, 2010


This question rose from a panel I was on 3 weeks ago with a producer with over 1 billion in ticket sales, another lit agent, and the story editor at WME. The panel was specifically created to give this particular group of high level screenwriting students a "reality check" regarding the business and their material.
 One of the major points made was that far too many talented writers are wasting their time pushing material that will never sell or move their career forward.

With the advent of final draft, pdf’s and email the cost to writers to create and send a properly formatted screenplay have dropped dramatically. In economic and strategic terms this is referred to a low barrier to entry. And many people feel that since they can type and have seen many movies that all of a sudden they are screenwriters. If I applied this same mentality to myself I should be at the Vancouver Olympics this week on the U.S. Team….. because I can ski.

An outcome of this is many untalented writers pushing bad scripts and as a result we agents, managers and producers are drowning in crap submissions. This is the very reason why new writers find it so very difficult to get people to read them. 
When you ask someone to read you, they immediately think about the odds that your script is any good, and that’s not a function of you. It’s based on 100’s or 1000’s of scripts they’ve read in the past. It’s pretty simple math; odds that it’s good enough to sell or sign 3%, time to fully read 1hr -2 hrs. What would you say?

A major problem in the system is writers have no economic disincentive preventing them from simply throwing material at agents/managers/producers to see if it sticks. And, if there were a monetary penalty for submitting a bad script that waists everybody’s time, gumms up the system, and hampers quality material from getting through (say $500, if the script is deemed good then the writer gets their $500 back), the quality of material would probably increase dramatically as writers would not risk lousy submissions and b forced to better police their submissions.



  1. I like the concept, but $500 per submission would dissuade a lot of potentially great screenwriters.

    I'm on my first "showable" spec. It's garnered "consider"s for both writer and project from one of the big 2 agencies. I have a lot of commercial yet original ideas I'm working on, and the handful of industry contacts that have read my spec and heard my other concepts are unanimously impressed with my grasp of the craft and the needs of the industry.

    But if I were required to pony up $500 every time I submitted, I'd probably never get read. I'm a family man with a day job and just don't have that kind of money to shell out every time I thought submitting to an appropriate agent/manager/prodco. I can't even afford to enter most contests right now to get my work seen/acknowledged.

    Also, what's good for one agent may be considered amateurish by another. It's too subjective.
    If an agent thought a spec was professionally executed but didn't serve their needs, it would be in their best interest to just keep my $500 and simply tell me it wasn't professional enough and I've wasted their time, rather than refund my $$ because though the spec is solid, it's just not what they're looking for right now.

    However, being serious about my career, something does need to be done to make things easier on both sides. From a writer's POV the industry is impenetrable, from an insder's POV it's much too easy for shoddy material to get read.

  2. $500 was just a number that was thrown out off the cuff, so let's not dwell on that specifically, but the concept that maybe their should be some serious financial hurdle created to stem the tide of bad submissions and also the get screenwriters to spend more time studying the market and figuring out what the market wants. Too few writers do that. They just write what they want and then bitch about a market place that doesn't agree with their taste when it doesn't sell. Remember it's show business not show art.

  3. This (a submission fee) is a brilliant idea. I think setting the fee at $500 is about right, $100 would be too low, not enough of a deterrent. A $1,000 would be a hardship for lots of people.

    To make it a viable system the fee should be donated to an outside entity presumably a charity. If the agency/production company/manager gets to keep the $500, then they have an incentive to read bad scripts. Have your intern read fifty bad scripts in a week and you’re up $5K. Even giving the agent say $75 as a “reading fee” would tend to corrupt the system.

    I say this based on my observations of the “script analysis” industry (read industry as scam). Instead of getting a one sentence review “This is a terrible story that no one, in their right mind would want to make into a movie.” they get several pages of detail about minor problems in the script, a list of typos and encouragement to resubmit after a rewrite.

    It’s much more lucrative to keep stringing somebody along for multiple analysis’s than telling them the underlying story premise is no good.

    Even though I am part of the great horde of unrepresented writers trying to scale the walls of the Hollywood fortress, spec script in hand, I do feel sympathy for agents, producers and managers (yes that was hard to write…) wading thru a sea of submissions. At my writing group and other places I meet people with scripts, that for licensing, budget, story or other considerations can’t be made. Then there is the whole category of scripts that could be made, but shouldn’t.

    Well that’s enough stone throwing for now.

  4. Regarding the idea that the $ should go to charity, lets assume the script was really bad. Shouldn't the agent/manager/producer be compensated for the 2hrs they spent reading it? An ent. lawyer would be paid for the 2hrs they spend reviewing a contract.

  5. That's a bad idea. What one agent/manager/exec calls a bad script, another will say is a good.

    As for assuming "the script was really bad" point above, it doesn't take two hours to figure out a script is terribly written and not worth persuing. If the script is average, then two hours is reasonable amount of time.

    But how many agents/managers actually read scripts themselves? Don't they send them out to badly paid script readers and use the coverage to see if the script is worth their time?

  6. OK, so let's assume that screenplays like most things in life are normally distributed. That means a very small percentage are really bad, an equally small percentage are really good and the rest fall somewhere in the middle (two standard deviations for you engineers). That would mean that an agent/manager/producer or their employees should spend 2 hrs on each script deemed better than really bad. Richard, you're talking about approximately 20,000 man hours a year in work, who pays for that? That's $400,000 in labor costs to find 40 screenplays. If you sell 25% of those (those numbers are being very generous based on the latest spec sales numbers. See Scoggins "it's on the grid" blog) at 200k a piece that's $2million gross, 200k net to the agency/man co. It doesn't add up. They take a loss. These are businesses, not the red cross.

  7. I agree with Richard. While it's an interesting idea it's such a subjective thing that there's no good way to police it without having the script read by multiple people, which starts to defeat the purpose.

    A better idea for agents/producers is to just stop promising to read the whole thing. I've read for Austin Film Festival a few times, and I can generally tell in the first 5 pages if the script will be any good. Sometimes in the first half a page.

  8. OK, but how would you feel if only 5 pages of YOUR screenplay were read? Would you feel it was given an appropriate chance?

  9. Sorry for the promulgation, but the subject timing is relevant. The relationship between screenwriter and agency is symbiotic: if agencies could get only the good scripts, and screenwriters could only submit to agencies that were interested (never a slush pile), many frustrations and dollars would be saved.
    To address this issue, we considered several scenarios and found that the best solution was to approach the matchmaking relationship between agency/prodco and screenwriter/filmmaker as if it were an online dating service… quickly skim over several, but only court the great ones.
    Thus, BlackLabel Agency was born. Founded on the premise that industry pros need a means to filter their screening selections, while screenwriters and filmmakers need a platform upon which they can hone their craft to make their project marketable, BlackLabel answers the call in a free, unbiased fashion.
    By including the third component in successful film endeavors, the audience, BlackLabel allows general public opinion of an artist’s logline, demo, or trailer to serve as a metric for its potential. If public opinion is low, artists can either: change up their marketing strategy, tweak their product, or- as is necessary in some cases- go back to the drawing board entirely. If public opinion is high, industry pros have at least some indication that there’s a market for that concept and a potential ROI- without having to pay readers to pilfer through hundreds, or even thousands of mediocre screenplays to find the good ones. Audience members are more likely to pay for and socially promote potential projects that they have a passion for, which assists in burgeoning film finance (established demand in an otherwise speculative market). Further, if the work is really bad- and we’ll know this based on public opinion- talent can’t blame the market or the industry, but can utilize tools and resources to hone their craft until they have something that sticks.
    BlackLabel is entertainment’s premiere open agency. All services and resources are free, and membership profiles can be detailed or remain anonymous, allowing agents, talent, and film enthusiasts to customize their profiles and contact information or simply stay stealthy within our network. We do, however, provide certain levels of access to each of the three groups, i.e. before we grant full access, we’ll call to verify that you work for so-and-so, but we won’t disclose that information; we’ll require talent to pitch our agency first, in order to verify that they actually have a viable commodity to sell. We also provide coverage for new projects in order to establish a baseline before ever listing them in our network. We work with all three sectors (industry pros, talent, and audience) to provide information and services that are tailored to each individual “clients” criteria.
    BlackLabel Agency does not provide representation in the traditional sense. We aren’t competing for rights or profits. We are, however, hoping to reduce piracy by educating moviegoers, provide resources to screenwriters and filmmakers so that they can understand their craft and the industry, and streamline the costly and time-consuming speculation process for agencies and prodcos.
    BlackLabel Agency is one alternative to spending hundreds, perhaps thousands, on submission fees and readers’ salaries. BlackLabel Agency’s BlackList, our client roster, is by invitation only and currently limited to 250 per month. There is a waiting list, but never a fee, and clients can cancel at any time, no questions asked. As always, we’re open to your suggestions and questions. Let us know if there’s anything we can do to serve you better.
    BlackLabel Agency launches April 2, 2010. For now, visit or send us BlackMail at

  10. Wow, totally blatant plug for a service I never heard of until now, doesn't even start for a month and therefore I do not endorse, but it does raise an interesting concept of audience metric based recommendations.
    The problem is, who is the audience and are they qualified to select great screenplays if possibly they have no, or little, knowledge of all the other things that go in to choosing scripts to produce (marketing, budgets, distribution etc.)? They might pick great stories, but not all great stories should be movies. Some stories simply can't be economically made within the present economics of film.
    BlackLabel guys, love the hutzpa but lets keep the conversation a bit more on topic next time and a bit less in press release territory.

  11. I understand the frustration, but this seems silly. Writers are disrespected enough as it is. It's like paying for a job interview. Who else does that?

  12. OK, but writers will pay a premium to attend a top film school, how is this different? You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don't write the check USC and NYU show you the door. And why should agents and managers, the very people who protect and promote writers the most, have to pay (via free labor) for the difficulties promulgated on writers by the rest of the industry?

  13. Not every successful writer has attended any kind of relevant school. You don't have to do it.

    I can see the appeal of the idea, but $500 would price me out of the market - and I've been getting lots of industry attention for TV in the UK.

    Look, I've been on the other side of the table (not with scripts but magazines and novels) so I do understand the amount of crap you have to wade through.

    BUT let's be truthful, rejecting stuff is easy: Is the title page correctly formatted? No? Reject. Is the first page correctly formatted? No? Reject. Does the first action paragraph contain typos, grammos, or is it otherwise incoherent or illiterate? Reject.

    That 90% of submissions.

    Does the first page read well? No? Reject. That's 97%. And you're down to your 3%. Does the first 10 pages bode well for the rest? No? Reject.

    And you're down to the decent stuff. Sure, you might lose something good but it's unlikely.

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  15. Did you just say "let them eat cake."
    1) With the advent of screenwriting software, spell and grammar check almost everything is properly formatted and free of the most obvious spelling errors, so that theory doesn't hold water. And if you think it does you can come down and read for me.
    2) "Not every successful writer has attended any kind of relevant school. You don't have to do it." True, but writers who have had formal training are almost always much better than those without, so isn't this the very perception "Anyone can do it from home" that is causing the problem? This isn't a specific comment on Adaddinsane, who may write like Robert Towne, but writers in general.

  16. This doesn't make any sense. The system has always been bogged down with bad writing, but agents/producers/managers read it because if they find that amazing screenplay, their day/week/month/year is made.

    Everyone has the same mentality. We're submitting our screenplays thinking "well, maybe i'll get lucky and they'll read it and even luckier and they'll like it."

    They are reading thick piles of garbage thinking, "Well, maybe I'll get lucky and subsequently mega rich."

    It's a completely natural give and take. Not to mention, there are plenty of barriers already up for getting your work read, and plenty of time spent to get there, that asking for some sort of fee is insane. Any reader that did that would be discredited immediately. Everyone knows that anyone that asks for money up front is a scam, a fraud, or very simply someone who is not a professional, and doesn't understand how things work.

  17. "OK, but writers will pay a premium to attend a top film school, how is this different?"

    Because you pay schools to TEACH you. No service is being performed when a script runs through the slush pile. I'm one of those people who paid a university, and you're right, it does make a difference. My writing is ten times better than it would have been had I not studied film. And I made sure I got my money's worth. An "entrance fee" to readers isn't going to boost my writing. It's a gateway tax.

    Also, it's exactly what writers are warned to stay away from in SCAMS. Whenever I've seen writers asking questions about new or unknown production companies or producers, the first question is always, "Did they ask you for money? If they did, RUN AWAY." I can't even imagine an effective system where a gateway tax would be "donated to a charitable organization" or "returned" if the script was given a consider.

    A lot of us are already starving artists. Some of us are paying off loans from those film schools. $500 is a month of rent. And would that be just for ONE read? What if you think your script would be a good fit for a couple different companies. All of a sudden, you're out thousands. It's difficult enough to get material to readers. Unsolicited material is dismissed, and queries rarely turn up anything. The relationships in this industry should be symbiotic. So don't put us on unequal ground by making writers pay to demonstrate their abilities (or even lack there of). Maybe what should really happen is that agents need to find a more proactive way of finding good talent instead of just waiting for it to filter through the slush pile.

    I agree with Adaddinsane. Besides, some poor schmuck has just spent several weeks, months, maybe years pounding out this script. Spare a few minutes to reject them.

  18. I love the comments and the passion, but "Spare a few minutes" isn't being realistic. Union readers read and comment on two scripts a day. So reading and thoughtfully commenting on a script is half a day's work and the submissions are well over 1000. Should we only accept scripts from film school grads? From people who have been optioned? Whether it's a financial barrier or a experience based one, as long as demand outstrips supply there is gong to be a tax. Is one better than the other? Should we have both? On any product you buy you can pay more to have RUSH delivery, why not this one?

  19. As for "never go to someone who asks for money upfront," i have to admit I've given the same advice many times. But, maybe we're just saying it like parrots. That statement is based on the assumption that the person taking the money is not interested on actually promoting a quality writer. But, what if that assumption was wrong? What if the Manager could be trusted to actually give the $500 back and sign the writer as a client. The manager has an economic incentive to do this.Why do we assume that all writers will be ripped off? I realize that many "Script Advisors" will advise you (and take your $ forever) on scripts that should be tossed in the trash, but what if in this example the manager told the truth? And for $500, wouldn't it be true that the only managers writers would chance the $500 on would be those with solid reputations that they trusted? Just like any other business.Can we think outside the box here?

  20. What if things were to change on the slush pile side? Yes, it takes more than "a few minutes" to read and cover a script. Maybe script readers should stop having to do coverage on scripts that are a pass. Make it ok to not read the entire script. You'll be able to get through way more than 2 scripts a day that way. Maybe they should get a couple extra interns. Maybe it's not the external agent/producer-writer relationship that needs to change but the infrastructure of the slush pile.

    It seems odd to me that agencies and producers would want to limit their submissions anyway. All sorts of limitations seem to be fairly arbitrary ones as well. The more limited your submission pool, the fewer really wonderful scripts you're going to get. Money is completely independent of talent, as is where you graduated from. An option is the only restriction that makes some sense, and there again it seems like we're shooting ourselves in the foot by barring talented new writers. Don't readers come to scripts hoping to find the next brilliant box office hit? Why would we try to limit ourselves?

  21. The question should be are you willing to bet $500 that an agent will sign you or pass it on to someone else who will advance your work? This stops being gambling if you have talent and you invest the time and effort to learn the craft and the market. Even Michelangelo spent time as an apprentice.

    Is $500 to much? Well I've spent a lot of money on books, seminars, online resources, cover charges and alcohol at trendy Hollywood night spots in order to network. Has it all paid off yet?

    Well I have more contacts than I did before and I know that I won't waste their time showing them crap . . . it will reflect on me.

  22. Excellent thread. I, like others here, see both sides-- 1) I'm a screenwriter that doesn't want to pay someone $500 to read my script, yet 2) I still wish there was a way to deter the “not ready yet” writers from clotting the system with substandard work that prevents the Industry from discovering me. Bruce asks us to think outside the box, so...

    Say I have a damn good script and $500. I know it's a good script and does all the things a good script does. I can either pay someone $500 to read it and hope they see what I see. Or I can use the $500 to highlight the key elements of the story and put together a marketing proposal for my script, a package that lays out the story and why it should be elevated up the ranks to the decision-makers. In my package, I’ll start with the synopsis—not the 10-page one, not the 3-page one-- the 1-page summary I spent a lot of time on to get the story trimmed down lean with no fat or gristle. From that, I choose 3 or 4 scenes, the “trailer moments”, the set pieces that will make someone see this movie. I hire an illustrator to mock up these moments, not super-fancy, just enough to get the idea across, to stimulate imaginations of film executives. This might cost $150; add a quick logo treatment of the title for another $50 (or make it yourself. You should know basic Photoshop skills as a 21st century screenwriter.) I combine the illustrations and summary in the marketing plan, then add a section on TARGET AUDIENCE, COMPARITIVE FILMS, and maybe a wish list (with pictures) of actors, not necessarily to be cast, but just to show whom I imagined playing the roles as I wrote the script. Lastly, I choose a scene that works—there better be a few to choose from or that raises its own red flag—and I hire actors to perform the scene, which I record on my camcorder. It doesn’t matter which location I choose, or how the actors are dressed, or lighting because I’m trying to sell the words on the page, the dialogue. This might cost $200, or a little more depending on how much you want to set up the scene with wardrobe, props, etc. My marketing plan turns into a 4-5 page PDF file that contains a link where the filmed scene can be viewed online on YouTube or wherever. I can bring a printed copy of the plan to the pitch. I can point people to where they can download it online (like my blog) I can make it easy for executives to communicate the value of my script up the chain (by forwarding the marketing plan itself or by using it for “talking points.) And even if the marketing plan doesn’t work, the process of making it has clarified for me what my story is, who might want to see it, and why. This seems like a pretty good investment, after all the time I spent writing the screenplay in the first place. And if I bump on developing any of the elements of the plan, I know I have to go right back to the story to get it right. Writing a $500 check to a “qualified reader” seems easier, but developing a marketing approach for my script seems to have more value in the long run.

  23. Great comment. Two thoughts 1) some people can be turned off by a "package proposal" thinking it's trying too hard to sell the script 2) In a free market where demand greatly outstrips supply, why shouldn't be a way for people to pay for that? At Disneyland you can pay extra for a pass that gets you to the front of the lines and nobody questions that. Why is this so taboo and controversial?

    There are also some interesting comments on the same thread on Linkedin in the USC film alumni group. I think their take is a little different since the all went to a top film school. The feeling is sort of didn't I already pay at USC?

  24. Yeah, maybe such a package can come off as trying too hard. Maybe the key to making such a strategy work is this: All the elements of such a plan have already been floating around in my computer as I've been writing the script. The one-sentence logline, the summary, the actors I imagined in the roles, etc. Maybe the package just consolidates all this info in one place--so it's my talking points for the pitch or query. If the exec asks for a summary, send her the one with some illustrations accompanying it. Is that trying too hard? Who wouldn't appreciate that extra step, that you are capable of visualizing your story the way a producer would? Things like Targeted Audience and Comparable Films you should just have inside your head anyway--if you haven't considered these things, you're probably not ready to write for Hollywood. So maybe the marketing package is delivered piecemeal as interest in your script grows, I don't know. And if an exec want a tight little package to throw on his bosses' desk, you say "How do you want it? Printed, PDF or online link-- I got it all and it'll be there in 5 minutes." I know sometimes I try too hard, or at least harder than others. That's just how I am about this stuff.

  25. I have to reiterate, because I'm getting stumped here -- it would be nice to filter out the subpar submissions, but something arbitrary like a reader's fee seems like a haphazard way to do it. The hope is that you DO find a gem of a screenplay. Why bar potential clients (and moneymakers) because they can't (or won't) cash in the money?

    And is this $500 a screenplay that gets you a read at any and all agencies/prodcos or just $500 a read? Then we're talking thousands and thousands of dollars.

  26. Good point. Maybe what the industry needs is a clearing house. Assume all unsigned writers fall into 2 groups, those that can get themselves read for free and those that can't.
    All those that can't could submit their script to a single clearing house owned by a consortium of agencies/man co.s ($500/script) and it would then be read by multiple readers and a consensus opinion would be arrived at. The top writers and projects would then be submitted to the agencies who have a first look arrangement with the clearing house. Crazy?

  27. Commerce thrives on the middle man. :)

    It's like adding an extra layer of readers. Interesting idea. Would there have to be more than one, so that writers wouldn't get their script completely rejected from the whole industry with just one submission? Is this more of just a junior agency, though? Are we recreating the same problem at a different level?

    Also, it's assumed that the writers would pay for the service of been passed through the gate to HW. But what if, instead of it being a service provided to writers, it's a service provided to agencies. The extra crap filter. Then shouldn't the agencies be paying?

    Hm, on one hand, this could work. On the other, it just seems like outsourcing the problem to a faux agency.

    Interesting discussion for sure. Made me thankful I haven't submitted anything yet and burned any bridges and thoughtful about how, when I do (submit that is, not burn bridges), I'll make it worth the reader's while.


  28. @ jtuverson: I'd love it if your idea were industry standard. Like you said, if you're serious about your career all those marketing considerations should be in your head and on your computer anyway. It'd be relatively simple and cheap to cull it into a proper marketing plan and dole it out as interest grows.

    Instead of the industry standard of "submit your script and we'll slog through it and get back to you (but probably not)", the new standard would be "Interesting logline, send us a summary and 3-5 page treatment... Liked the treatment, send us a pdf of your 1st 10 pages, along with some marketing specs & cast considerations... Loved the pages, send us the script along with any other materials. We'll slog through it and get back to you (but probably not)."

    Up side for industry types: all I have to do is read loglines until I find one that hooks me; my time isn't wasted on anyone, because I choose how much time I spend on any given writer according to the promise I think they/the project holds; I get a writer who I know knows the business and has thoroughly thought through their project (they'll be able to pitch properly); the groundwork for marketing to who I have to market to has already been paved (or needs to be reassessed).

    Up side for writers: knowing my project/product back-to-front; being able to accurately gauge professional interest in my work; submitting still free; unskilled writers weeded out; stigma of being suspected as Walking Black Death possibly being removed from my profession.
    Having said that...

    @ Bruce r.e. Clearing House idea: that's pretty much what contests are, but the GENIUS of that idea is if it were "owned by a consortium of agencies/management co.'s". That would give it the ultimate industry legitimacy.
    That idea could make you some serious money, my friend. I'm talkin' like, Jeff Katzenberg/Aaron Spelling type money!

  29. Charging writers money to have their script read won't work for one simple reason. Anyone who has gone far enough to write a script and submit it, believes that their script is the best script on the planet. As a script reader, this is how I rationalized some of the awful scripts I had to read.

    I think a better solution would be for agents and managers and production companies to require the writer to do more work before submitting. Why not simply make the submission process for scripts more like that for a nonfiction book?

    Why not require screenwriters to create a script proposal similar to a nonfiction book proposal? It could be fairly brief and organized in bite-sized chunks. Make the writer include the usual material, a logline, synopsis, professional credits, etc., but also have them include a detailed marketing plan.

    The marketing plan's where you'd immediately begin to weed people out. People who aren't serious about a writing career simply won't go to the trouble to create a detailed proposal.

    Compare the writer who says, "Rob Reiner would love to direct my script because it's awesome" to the writer who says something like "Rob Reiner might be interested in producing and directing my screenplay because in these three ways it is similar to "The Bucket List," which has so far grossed $174,310,293.

    For some reason, a lot of people see writing as an easy, get rich quick scheme rather than a business. By forcing writers to treat writing more like a business, by making it tougher to submit material, you'll lose a lot of the get-rich-quick types and end up with better material as a result.

  30. While I find these posts quite interesting, some fail to address Bruce’s primary assertion that he masterfully articulated at an unprecedented Hollywood panel. Gary Shusett, who has run Sherwood Oaks College for the last four decades, determined there are currently less than 10 film professionals in the entire United States who feel comfortable enough to reveal the absolute truth about aspiring writers’ material.

    On Friday, January 29, 2010, Sherwood Oaks College had more than half of these “truth tellers” on one amazing panel, including Jonathan Krane (Producer of “Face Off”), David Warden (Literary Agent who sold “Deja Vu” for seven million for his client), Chris Lockhart (Head of Sony Story Department, William Morris /Endeavor), and Bruce Bartlett. Gary has also included me, a lowly script consultant, on his “Top Ten Most Honest” list and agreed with my belief that there was no reason to do the panel without Bruce Bartlett’s participation. After all, Bruce has been shouting the truth for years to anyone willing to listen.

    At this special event, many aspiring screenwriters heard the truth for the very first time. But the truth really has nothing to do with the wisdom of paying or not paying $500 to an agent for a reading fee. In fact, the truth has nothing to do with the writer, period. That is where 97% of writers go wrong. They are so consumed by how everything in life affects them. “How will they sell their screenplay?” “How do they find an agent?” It’s the wrong approach. What they should be thinking is, “Have I written anything that is good enough to be worth the valuable time of a busy literary agent?” At that point, they would be thinking and acting like a true industry professional. Instead, these aspiring writers waste everyone’s time.

    Some might want to argue that reading screenplays is Bruce’s job. That is totally incorrect. Bruce’s job is to SELL his clients’ material, which presumably is commercially viable and well-written enough to be able to compete in the Hollywood marketplace. If he chooses not to market a particular piece of material or writer at the moment, then he is still working extremely hard to maintain relationships with all his potential buyers and keep abreast of all the communication out there about upcoming needs. Bruce’s job is very hard and very time consuming. So, when he does an aspiring writer a HUGE favor by agreeing to read a script personally (instead of paying for coverage from a reader or script consultant like me), Bruce needs to feel that he isn’t completely wasting his time. Yet, as stated, he almost always is disappointed by the read. Yet, does the writer feel the least bit guilty for wasting Bruce’s time? Of course not. This writer doesn’t care about Bruce’s mortgage payment or his car payments or his kid’s school tuition. Truly, the writer doesn’t care about Bruce at all, unless Bruce decides to represent the writer as his/her agent.

    Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of writers spend many years creating screenplays with virtually no chance of finding a buyer because the writers have never received honest feedback about the materials’ true commercial viability. So the cycle of waste and disappointment continues. But don’t blame agents like Bruce Bartlett. He actually cares deeply about writers. Otherwise, he wouldn’t work so hard to help them for so many years!

    As a screenplay consultant, I offer a unique service to writers. I’ll read their first ten script pages for only $20. Since weak scripts rarely ever get better beyond page ten, this is an inexpensive way for writers to get objective feedback on their material. More info is available on my blog/website:

  31. Reading the first ten pages of a screenplay usually seems sufficient to reveal the quality of the writing. If the writer has no previous writing credits, then average to decent writing won't cut it. The writing must be spectacular. Otherwise, agents and managers will find it problematic to locate a buyer for the material. Therefore, an uncredited writer who submits an entire screenplay for consideration would be prudent to suggest that the agent only reads to page ten. If the agent is impressed with the professionalism of the writing, then that agent will certainly keep reading the script. But writers should feel grateful for the opportunity and not resent getting a pass on page ten.

    It's shocking to me how many aspiring writers don't understand what happens when they submit material to Hollywood gatekeepers. Only two results can happen. If the material is truly at a professional level, then many great things could happen from the submission. However, 97% of the time, the material isn't remotely close to being at a professional level. After a review of the script coverage, busy Hollywood gatekeepers record the name of the writer who wasted their time into a database. That writer will likely never get read again, even if the writer is willing to pay a reading fee. Does this reality affect writers' submission behavior? Not based on the size of most agencies "slush piles."

    To review my five-part blog series on "Debunking Hollywood Myths for Uncredited Screenwriters," please visit my blog:

  32. I agree with comments about how quickly we can spot bad to mediocre writing. And agents could easily read 10 pages, discard and repeat. But that fails to address two things. 1) it still allows poorly written submissions to flood the system and places all the responsibility of filtering them on agents and managers (readers) rather than allowing writers to share that burden. 2) from the perspective of a writer do you want an agent to always cut you off at 10 pages with the bar being amazing by page 10 or pass? Also would this simply lead to some scripts with a great first 10 pages followed by a less than stellar 100 more pages as the writer puts extra work in those first 10? You get what you reward. If we reward a great first 10, we'll get a better first 10. But we should be rewarding a great 115 pages.

  33. Oh, and by the way, from now on plugging your own commercial product on my site will now cost $500.

  34. Bruce,

    I fear that nothing will prevent poorly written submissions from flooding the system. The volume of submissions to YOU would simply decrease if you charged a reading fee. But your percentage of quality submissions would probably not increase for all the previous reasons stated. Too many aspiring writers lack the knowledge and craft to respect and appreciate what is involved in creating a well-written screenplay.

    But I have a three-part suggestion that will provide the writer a genuine opportunity to get your attention and will require less than 15 minutes of your time, total.

    First, have the writer complete a very short questionnaire, (I'm happy to e-mail a copy to you privately of the one I use). One of the most telling questions on the survey is simply, "How many produced screenplays (shooting scripts) have you read?" If they reply "0-5" than I already know their writing will be weak. How many blueprints do aspiring architects study? Thousands, right? If they answer "100+ scripts", then I have a great deal more optimism. That only takes a few seconds of your time to read, but look what you can now infer!

    Next, I analyse their loglines. That tells me plenty also, in just a minute or two.

    Finally, I read their first ten script pages. If I was a busy litery agent like you, I would now feel fully justified to stop reading the script if there are 3 red flags. Just like a bad bottle of wine, if the first glass is terrible, the taste won't improve as you drink more.

    As to writers feelings, consider actors. They are judged in auditions in less than 15 minutes. Same with dancers and models. Writers without credentials haven't earned the RIGHT to waste the time of industry professionals. There is no such entitlement. In fact, when people feel their time is wasted, that is likely the end of any future relationship possibilities. Which is why the 10-page rule seems much better for all concerned.

    I agree with your statement that we should be rewarding (and encouraging) a great 115 page script. But realistically, it's asking a lot for most writers to pound out 115 great pages when they can't even create TEN decent pages.

    Regarding compensation for readers, perhaps things can be restructured so readers get paid by the TIME spent reading and covering the scripts rather than the NUMBER of scripts read. That way, a reader can plow through eight packages containing the questionnaire, the logline and ten script pages in the time it normally takes to cover just one script!

    Curious what you think about these ideas?

  35. That's pretty funny, Bruce. But it's all commercial.

    Seriously, though. To implement the $500 gateway tax, you would have to regulate it across the board and you'd probably have James Jordan undercutting you by 25%. Just joking.

  36. That's pretty funny, Bruce -- but it's all commercial now.

    Seriously though, if you wanted to implement a $500 gateway tax, you would have to regulate it like a government agency with fines for agencies/reading services/managers/producers that undercut the $500. Keep an eye out for James Jordan.

  37. Wow, what an unexpected treat to stumble onto this blog. Great forum & interesting comments.

    As one "below the line" (Cal Arts Animator working as an Art Director & Location Scout) with 50+ films & 400+ commercials under my belt I can empathize with the Agents & Readers who are inundated with the non-stop Tsunami of crappy scripts being sent their way ~ Many truly awful, in spite of the Author having purchased & using Final Draft. I know, as I've read 100's of them myself.

    From what I can tell, living & networking in LA is an essential element to getting past (or to know) the Gate Keepers... But for those in that position, the process of finding a "Great Script" must seem like searching for a diamond ring... that was lost in the Sahara.