Ugh! Sorry this took so long to put up but I’ve been in rewrite hell on a script for the past few weeks. If you need to catch up, head over to Part 3 here. Part 1 is here and Part 2 is over here.
Now… where did we leave off? I think we were about to discuss exactly who you can trust in the consulting world. Before I get into that though, I want to mention a couple of things.
First: To those that live in Hollywood or know anyone that works in the entertainment industry…
There is absolutely NO WAY you should pay for a consultant. It’s a waste of money. If you live and work in or around Hollywood, you HAVE to know SOMEONE that has done something at some point and could give you feedback.
If you DON’T know anyone, then you need to brush up on your people skills cause you are not networking properly. Everyone is a friend with someone. The sole purpose of a consultant, in my eyes, is to get “industry level” feedback on your script. Not necessary when you’re in and around the industry. Make sense?
Second: Writer’s Groups DON’T count!
Notice above, I said “someone who has done something at some point.” Way back in Part 1, I mentioned writer’s groups. THEY DO NOT COUNT AS FEEDBACK!
Unless you’re in a writer’s group with actual working screenwriters who have studio deals, you’re in a group with a bunch of people that are in the same boat as you. How does that help you? Sure, they can read your script and give their opinion, but as the saying goes, people who have opinions have assholes or assholes have every opinion. Eh… you know what I mean.
That doesn’t mean you should drop buckets of cash on a consultant because, if you’re out here and in a writer’s group, than… well… see number 1.
Third: If you went to film school…
In theory, even from the worst teachers at the worst film schools, you’ve gotten SOME type of education or hint of knowledge that eeks you past the need for “expert opinion” on your script. You should have moved past that and be on to the part where you’re dealing with actual working professionals in the industry. (i.e. managers, agents, producers…)
Also, if you went to school to make this your profession than you did the smart thing and moved to Hollywood, started networking and… well, see number 1. You might have even joined a writer’s group when you got here, so see number 2.
Okay, now… On to everyone else!
Obviously, if you didn’t go to film school or don’t live in Hollywood, it’s pretty hard to network your way into the hearts of someone that will read your shit and give you feedback. The fastest and easiest way into the industry is to move here and be a part of it.
Let me make this clear: Obviously… there are exceptions to every rule.
So let me make THIS clear: Being an exception is hard. I said moving to Hollywood is the fastest and easiest way into Hollywood, but it’s not the ONLY way. To be an exception to the rule you have to be a diamond in the rough. That’s not a simple task to accomplish.
Which brings me to: SPOILER ALERT! YOU’RE PROBABLY NOT A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH!
I know your ego can’t handle reading that. In fact you probably read that and thought “Heh! He’s not talking about me.”
Yes. Yes I am. I’m talking about you.
But your inflated self-worth can’t handle that… so there’s only one option in your mind…
“I’ll pay a ‘professional’ to read my script and give me notes!”
Okay fine. If you want to go that road, I can’t stop you… but I can make it a little easier for you. There are a lot of choices out there. Some are flat out scams. Some are less full of shit than others. How do you tell though?
Let’s get in it and figure it out.
(WARNING: as I have previously said, I have never paid for coverage or paid for a consultant so my opinion is NOT based on experience. My opinion is soley based on my experience, conversations with working producers, managers, agents and my fellow screenwriters.)
Let’s start with the scams:
1. People who will JUST “read your script.”
That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just read it. Not even a guarantee of notes. These people might promise you things like “if it’s good, I’ll pass it on to a friend who’s an agent.”
THIS IS A SCAM! Do not pay these people! They will not read your script and they will not pass it on because they do not have any friends… not reputable ones.
They’re only in it for the check and because they used language like “if it’s good,” they can just tell you it isn’t. Then they can make a couple of general comments about the script like, “the third act needs work” or “your dialog lacks punch” or “your character’s journey isn’t fully flushed out” (ALL REAL COMMENTS THAT I’VE HEARD WRITERS TELL ME) and NOT pass it on to their “friend.”
And although above said comments may, in fact, be true, they’re vague enough for you to reexamine your choices, spin your wheels on another draft and be out X number of dollars.
These “consultants” typically advertise the fact that they did ONE movie once with some top named actor a few years ago.
Like that means anything… That’s the same thing my Uber driver told me the other day.
2. People who will read your script, but first…
This doesn’t always fall in the lap of the consultant as much as it does so called “managers” or “production companies.
This scam is fairly easy: First they tell you that they don’t read scripts without coverage from a “reputable source.” Then they give you a “list” of sources they “trust.” Lo and behold, the source is a “division of their company.” Wanting to break in, you pay their “coverage person” (i.e. cousin) to read your script and write up coverage.
The coverage will, most likely, recommend a pass. They might include notes such as: “Dialog needs to be punched up,” “character’s journey…,” “falls apart in the third act…” blah blah blah.
Just vague enough for you to spin your wheels and be out your dough.
If this happens, they realize that they can’t make any money off of you so they take your cash and bid you goodbye.
3. People who read your script and want to rep you… for cash money, yo!
Take the above example but this time say the coverage comes back a “recommend.” Then the “manager” will come back to you and say they read the coverage, loved your idea and want to rep you. All you need to do is drop them a “producer’s fee” up front. This can be anywhere from $5,000 – $25,000 depending on what you can do.
This money will be used to “fund your project.” Cause guess what? Not only are they a management company and a “coverage/consultant firm”… but they’re also a PRODUCTION COMPANY!
And instead of wasting time finding a producer, they’re just going to fast track it into production! WHOOOO! Hollywood gate consider yourself kicked open! Bring on the strippers and blow! Not only are you now a writer with a produced film, BUT you’re going to get offered a producers credit too!
HOOOOO-LY SHIT! Is this the line for my Oscar?
In reality, the film will never see the light of day. You will never see a return on your “investment” and it will all be chalked up to: “Well that’s Hollywood for you. What’s next?”
And the cycle starts all over again while they live off your money cause, sorry to ruin it for you but, that money was never used to fund your film at all. It was used to pay their Mercedes car payment, so they can look important when they pull up to bum-fuck-wherever and hand out their self-made “producer” business cards to suckers.
I mean writers.
Okay, those are the scams that I know, for sure, exist… what about the rest?
Now that we know to avoid the big money fleecing writer scams, lets take a look of the rest of the pack. Who do you choose to trust? Here are some of the pet peeves that irratate me:
1. Consultants who speak in metaphors…
I’ve been known to toss in a metaphor or two to help explain my point. One or two… no biggie. But when a consultant STAYS in the metaphor for the entire time? RUN!
These are the people who like to refer to your screenwriting career as “getting behind the wheel,” or “taking flight.”
And you’re the “pilot.”
And your script is “the plane.”
And the characters are “your passangers.”
And agents and managers are “the airport.”
And their desk is “the boarding gate.”
And if you listen to them they will teach you to “land safely and unload your passengers… right into their boarding gate.”
That’s some hack shit right there. I don’t trust these people.
2. Consultants who sound intelligent, but then just try to sell you shit…
I read an article the other day that was really well written. I didn’t know who had written it, but I was in to it. They seemed to know what they were talking about and were spot on about how shit works in this crazy industry. I thought the article was written by an actual working executive. I was so in to it I was going to share it and promote whoever this writer was.
But then I got to the last paragraph…
In the last paragraph this writer turned out to be a consultant and basically added: “…and you can avoid all these pitfalls if you just buy my book…” as the last line.
I’m not above self promotion, but there’s a way to do it and there’s a way not to do it. Putting “…and buy my shit!” in the last paragraph, to me, negates everything you just said, becuase the goal wasn’t to help me, the goal was to sell your shit.
You take that and you put that in the bio at the end. It should read “so and so is a consulatant and you can buy their book at blah blah blah.”
This person is clearly in it for the money and they don’t give one fuck what happens to you. Although if you DO end up doing something, its good for them. They can use you as a “success story.”
…you know, to sell more books.
3. Consultants who don’t say anything… anywhere… you gotta just trust them…
Part of the issue with consultants is that you can’t really establish a relationship with them until you hand over your money. You should be able to interview them for the job. You are, after all, hiring them. But that’s not the way it works. You have to trust, based on the credentials they give you, that they know what they’re talking about.
The only way to truly get a feel if the consultant is the right choice for you, is to read articles they’ve written in other places. Most every consultant “speaks” out some where, whether it’s their own personal blog or through various articles or even through their book.
By reading their views and opinions, you should be able to get an idea if they’re the ones for you.
Unless you can’t find anything out there that they’ve written. If they expect you to go to their website, read their “about page” and then order their services… well, fuck that noise. That’s a red flag.
First, I’ve already pointed out the issue with credentials and second, it’s mildly arrogant that you should trust them based on the fact that they USED to work for a studio.
FACT: the industry changes rapidly. It’s rare that ANYONE in the studio system stays in one job longer than a few years… case in point… THEY (the consultant) USED to work in the studio system. Why don’t they now? Hmmmm.
4. Which brings me to… those who can’t do…
To quote Woody Allen in Annie Hall: “Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym. Everyone else taught at my school.”
I think one of the major issues that working screenwriters have with consultants is that the consultants aren’t doing. So what could they possibly know?
Honestly? To me… this is a chicken/egg scenario. You can learn a lot by “not doing.” You can learn even more by failing miserably. But does that then make you capable of telling others what they should or should not do?
The problem is, people who find success don’t really have time to help “the little guy” because they’re busy being successful. This means that most of the time consultants aren’t currently working, but have at some point. They have to have SOME knowledge that they can pass on to you, right? In theory… yes, they can. BUT, when exactly did they get their experience?
FACT: the way shit happened in the 90’s isn’t how shit happens now. So if the extent of the consulatnt’s experience is from their time in the studios in the 90’s… well, how can they possibly help me now? My cynical mind also assumes that they burned out of the business. Tired of playing the game, or not even asked to play any more. I would avoid these people… but that’s just me. You decide.
5. Lastly, my biggest pet peeve… the secret keeper…
I can not describe to you the level of fucking anger that builds in my blood when I read that a fucking consultant has the fucking secret to unlocking your fucking career.
Here, come ‘ere for a sec… let me whisper this into your ear. Are you listening? Cause I’ve got a secret…
THERE IS NO FUCKING SECRET YOU DUMB, GULLIBLE SONUVABITCH!!!!
If by secret do they mean hard work? Networking? Putting in the time? Oh… so you mean like… treating your career… like a career!?
Anyone who falls for this shit deserves to fall for it. If you think that there is ONE thing, that if done, you’ll get the keys to the party bus that is Hollywood? You’re an idiot.
Actually, strike that. You’re a genius. While I have your attention, “I’m a Nigerian prince that needs a small amount of money to finance my oil field. If you just send me $25,000 dollars as a loan, I will return your investment 4 times over. Who wouldn’t want $100,000 dollars for the simple price of $25,000 dollars?”
While I’m at it…
5. Don’t trust anyone who uses lame marketing ploys…
You know what I’m talking about… the shit your mom shares on Facebook. Videos that have lines like: “This dog came home and you’ll never believe what happens next!”
So you click on it, cause you want to see what happens next… aaaaannnnnd It’s a dog taking a shit. WHELP! Can’t get those 45 seconds back. Thanks mom!
I see this all the time… “Do you want to know how to be successful?”
“Click here to find out how to get a manager!”
“Still looking for an agent, I can tell you how!”
They might as well just do this.
All they’re doing is getting you to click on their shit, which drives up their website traffic which makes them look important to other people. They can go back and say, “HEY! 3000 people visit my site every day! I know what I’m talking about… give me money!”
It’s marketing language. A.K.A. bullshit. (Thanks George.)
Now that all that negativity is out of the way, let me say this…
I believe that there are people out there that can help you. People who know what they’re talking about, people who read the trades, follow the tracking boards and can help put you on the right track… or at least a better track than you were on before.
Do the research. Find the reviews. Read the articles. Don’t just hand over your money to anyone. If you run into a consultant at a pitchfest or some event, chat ’em up. Get to know them as much as you can. Don’t be weird about it, but see if who they are vibes with what you’re trying to do.
There’s no right or wrong answer. At the end of the day, it’s your money and you can spend it any way you want to. Want to blow it on a metephor using hack who has the secret to Hollywood? Go for it. Just don’t bitch when it doesn’t work out the way you want it to.
Want to save your money and move to Hollywood and meet people and network and put the work in? Cool. Do that.
As Cheryl and I have always promoted by doing the podcast and this website… “there are a million ways in to the industry…”
Find what works for you. Just try to do it smartly. That’s all we ask.
…and if you have any questions, ask us… we have the secret to piloting your career safely into the port of your dreams…
One thought on “The War on the Consultant IV: Who Do You Trust?”
Thanks again Manny for cutting through the BS and telling things the way they really are! My favorite part:
“Writer’s Groups DON’T count!”