Expose Yourself! An Interview with Jerrol LeBaron of Writers’ Script Network By Christina Hamlett
The Internet is dramatically changing the way that producers—and, accordingly, agents—are doing business. From independent production companies to major studios, the electronic bandwagon is being hopped on from all directions. Says Terence Michael of Michael/Finney Productions, “Although we respect agents and admit that the overall quality of the material they send us is higher, the percentage of scripts we read and acquire from the Internet or direct e-mail has now overshadowed those from the agencies. We can log on anytime and search for exactly what we want.” How can you as a new screenwriter tap into this valuable resource…and should you? Jerrol LeBaron, creator/owner of Writers’ Script Network, has become an expert on how to get exposure for writers of screenplays and shorts. Growing up in a construction background, but with entrepreneurial spirit, Jerrol purchased his first business at age 23. Later on, he dabbled in acting and writing and it was this experience that inspired him to create Writers’ Script Network. His opinions on how technology is making Hollywood more accessible to beginners are the subject of this article. Q: Tell us what first inspired you to launch Writers’ Script Network. A: I wrote a screenplay and had a very difficult time getting producers and agents to read it. It was as if they weren’t interested in reading anybody’s script. Q: Were there any other such networking sites already online when you began? A: There were dozens and dozens of sites promising exposure for writers. I believe the key difference is that these other sites were operated by people who didn’t realize that you have to work the business in order for it to be successful. They had the idea that the Internet would miraculously generate interest and business all by itself. Having a business background, I knew I had to “work it” and do something to get writers exposure for their scripts. Q: What makes WSN different from its competitors in terms of visibility and scope of services? A: We focus only on getting exposure for writers’ scripts. We don’t dabble in script coverage, pitch sessions, chat rooms, etc. We only concentrate on getting writers exposure. Q: How much information about his or her script can a prospective writer post on WSN’s site? A: Virtually all of it. When a writer posts his/her work, it includes a detailed form allowing the writer to describe the script. Additionally, the writer posts a pitch, a synopsis and if the writer wants, the entire treatment and script. Q: Are there any built-in protections against electronic thievery? (i.e., how do I know another writer won’t read my work and write something similar?) A: It is password protected. Writers don’t get access to other writers’ scripts. Any producer or agent who has access to our writers’ scripts has provided full contact info, credits and references. Just before we give a producer access we have a personal conversation with the person. No producer or agent has access to our writers’ scripts without a due diligence and a phone conversation. Q: Who, exactly, will be viewing the script information posted? A: Credited producers, agents and managers and their readers. Additionally, those who have the potential of getting a film made. For example, a person who specialized in financing films (had financed films) and now wants to produce his/her own films. Former studio execs who now want to do it on their own. I look for potential to get something sold or produced. For example: Mike Zoumas, a Senior VP for Miramax/Dimension Films recently called wanting help in finding a horror for a young filmmaker. Upon his recommendation I set up this young filmmaker so that he had access to our database of writers and scripts. On his own, the young filmmaker would never have gotten access (he had done one 15 minute short at school), but with Miramax and Mr. Zoumas taking this filmmaker under their wing, it was appropriate to allow access and do everything I could to help them find the right script. Q: Does a listing with WSN replace the need for getting/having an agent in the film business? A: No. Until a writer is making well into 6 figures from writing, the writer should seek out representation by a manager, agent and attorney, in addition to using our site. Writers should get support and exposure in every way that he/she can. I firmly believe this. At the same time, if a writer does have an agent, a manager and an attorney, the writer should continue to get exposure in every way possible (making sure not to step on the representatives’ toes). It is a common misconception that once a writer is represented by William Morris or CAA that the writer’s peddling of his/her own scripts is done. Don’t believe this for a second. Having a big time representative in no way guarantees success. The writer must continue to sell him/herself whenever and wherever possible. Q: What’s the cost of a WSN listing and how long does the material stay posted? A: $40 for six months per title. Q: Are the writers kept informed of which production companies or agents have looked at their listings? A: Everything is recorded on our site. Writers always know what companies have viewed their pitches (loglines), synopses, treatments and scripts. Q: If a company has looked at a listed script but passed, is the writer allowed to contact that company with a different idea without going through WSN? A: Not if the company didn’t make contact with the writer and only read the logline or synopsis of the writer. If the company downloads the script, the writer is permitted to make contact several weeks later to see if the script was of interest. If a company liked the writer’s writing, believe me, the company would have made contact with the writer, asking for other scripts or letting the writer know that they are interested in any other scripts the writer writes in the future. This happens all of the time. When the company contacts the writer, the writer is free to engage in any conversations with the company at any time the writer feels it is appropriate. Q: Can today’s Internet really be an effective tool for screenwriters? A: Five years ago, the answer would have been an emphatic ‘no’. To many of the “old school” industry professionals, the answer is still ‘no’. The good news, though, is that Hollywood is being firmly nudged to embrace what has become an inescapable facet of modern technology: cyber promotion. Up until the Internet, screenwriters had a particularly tough time of getting recognized. Between the Writers Guild and Copyright Office, there are approximately 80,000 works for stage, television and film that are registered annually in the US. Although a good percentage of these are screenplays, only a few hundred will ever make it to the silver screen each year. Q: Why? A: Because Tinseltown is a tightly closed community, operating on the popular catch-phrase, ‘You’re only as good as your last film.’ As a result, many well known artists share the same frustration as their lesser-known rivals in finding just the right project. Directors and producers as well share the labor-intensive plight of having to read hundreds of treatments and scripts in the quest for discovering one that will be a good vehicle for their careers. Further complicating the access issue from the writer’s standpoint has been the prohibitive nature of getting a new screenplay, sans agent, into a particular talent’s hands. Short of moving to LA and parking on someone’s doorstep, aspiring screenwriters have endured the dismal reality of spending months—even years— on a project, only to have it rejected or, worse, never read at all. Q: Since its launch in on Valentine’s Day of 2000, what has WSN’s success rate been in matching writers with producers? A: We average about three scripts sold/optioned a week. Last year, we had 3 six-figure sales, around 17 other deals with writers involving low and mid five-figures and scores of options. About 30 writers gained representation. This is that we know of. As we aren’t representatives and aren’t involved in the negotiations, some times we are never told about a sale. This doesn’t include the number of writers who have developed relationships with producers and reps (who are now open to anything else the writer may write). Every week, producers and reps personally make contact between 150 and 300 writers through our network. Q: Does WSN require a percentage of any sales made as a result of scripts being sold through its website? A: NO. We are not agents or managers and we do not attach ourselves in any way to the script. We are not involved in the negotiations. It is between the producer or rep and the writer. We do not impose ourselves on what is already always a delicate situation. Q: Is WSN just for writers with feature length projects or do you encourage the submission of shorts as well? A: We encourage writers to list shorts on our site and there is no fee for that. Q: What about television scripts? A: Our network includes both Television and Feature producers. Both types of scripts do and have been acquired by producers through our network. This includes: series, reality, talk, soaps, etc. Q: Does WSN provide script coverage for those projects that need a little extra tweaking? A: NO. Our focus is only exposure. Though there is a page on our site where we list coverage services that writers highly regard. Q: Give us an example of one of WSN’s newcomer success stories. A: John Sullivan sold “Rapid” to Sony Pictures for $275,000 against $575,000. Chris Soth and Collin Chang sold the pitch “Meet Jane Doe” to Signpost films for low six figures. Meghan McCarthy was hired for low six figures to pen an untitled comedy for Firstlook Media. Cindy Parrish was hired to write “River Rats” for Dan Hall of VMS and this film is now in post-production. Philip Farha of Workshop Productions LLC purchased Charles Halls script, “Messengers” and it is also in post-production. Q: What can new screenwriters do to increase the chances of selling their scripts? A: Whether your objective is to write shorts or features, it’s important to know their respective idiosyncrasies and formats. In either case, the lower the budget, the higher your chances of seeing it sold and produced. This means fewer characters, minimal special effects, and concentrating all of the events in the fewest number of locations (i.e., one house, a park, a cemetery, etc.) Playwrights might find it especially easy to adapt some of their material for this new venue, given the already existent economy of production. Q: What are some of the things to watch out for in posting synopses and scripts through other screenwriting websites? A: (1) Don’t sign release forms that use the word ‘identical’; (2) Don’t post your entire script if the site isn’t password protected and doesn’t track records of who is viewing your work; and (3) Always protect your work, whether it’s a 2-minute short or a 2-hour feature. Protecting your work is relatively easy, inexpensive and can even be done quickly online. This is the way the market is going. Take advantage of it!”
Former actress and director Christina Hamlett is the published author of 17 books, 98 plays and musicals, and several hundred magazine and newspaper articles which appear throughout the world. For further information on her background or to query regarding her script coverage services for film and stage, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.