I recently went through my emails, some dating back to 2008, to clean up an old account I now use for spam or whenever some company asks for an email address. I’ve been a freelance writer for almost 20 years, and in that time you can forget how many opportunities have fallen through or how many times you’ve written something on spec. Speaking honestly 95% of the people I interacted with had good intentions and delivered varying degrees of professionalism. I’ve been asked countless times about “what it’s like” as a writer in one capacity or another.
I’ve written pitches, scripts, novels, screenplays and some really terrible poetry. I did so in the hope of landing a publisher or under the direction of a publisher. I have written dozens and dozens of pitches for Marvel and DC at the request of their editors even after I was already working on several books for them.
You don’t get paid for pitches but that doesn’t mean they’re not hours of hard, time-consuming work.
I’ve done the same for Hollywood agents, producers and managers. I wrote a pair of 20-page film treatments for two superhero properties at the request of an agent who it turned out had no inroads into the company that owned those superheroes. Hell, I’m writing five pages a day for free right now.
Giving free stuff to people that know and enjoy your work is good for the relationship and shows your audience that you care, which I do. Giving stuff away in a sort of “throw it against the wall and see what sticks” fashion is a waste of time and devalues your effort. In case you didn’t know this about me – if there’s a mistake to be made I’m gonna make it with enthusiasm. Partly because I’m willing to try almost anything and partly because I’m a rush into a burning house kind of guy.
The point is I’ve done the obstacle course. I’ve jumped through the hoops with joy in my heart and a smile on my face. I’ve bent over backward, and in some cases, I’ve been metaphorically bent over. There are layers of middlemen between my writing and finding the people that want to read it, and I don’t need the same things that commercial publishers need.
in the hope of success but without any specific commission or instructions.“he wrote a screenplay on spec and hoped someone would buy it.”
This is just for education/entertainment purposes. I’m not putting in names or too many details even though most of these are long off the table and maybe people I spoke to don’t work in the same places. It shows you how many things never pan out and how it is amazing anything gets done. There were a lot more of them I’m not putting down here, comics, live-action web series, video games, animated shows, film concepts and intellectual property development – countless hours and labor for free based on hope.
THE FALL OF 2009 a massive document was created by myself and my writing partner based on an idea a global brand/media company was looking to develop into a film franchise. Here is the initial pitch reaction:
“Dude. We friggin loved it. Seriously. My producing partner thinks there is a chance this could be sold in the room. Will let you know about notes later tonight but there might not be any!”
THE FALL OF 2009. Pitch NOTES for said live-action movie:
I just wanted you all to know that (COMPANY X) really liked your take. (PROJECT LEADER) needs a few adjustments, however, before he tries to get the sign off on it.
So here are the brief notes on what we need. And I am open tonight or over the weekend to discuss anything at length. Would love to get this to them by next week.
There are too many storylines for (PROJECT LEADER). He would like one storyline to be cut – meaning to go from 4 storylines to 3 storylines. He thinks that is the perfect amount, so it doesn’t get too convoluted. He wants the document to be as easy as possible to follow.
He wants there to be an intro set piece / set up for the 3 storylines. This is the quote from (PROJECT LEADER): “Also, I think there needs to be an intro set-piece to set up the virus. Not necessarily graphic though. But cut between the 3 storylines going about a normal day and how the disease suddenly takes affect…start the movie strong like 28 days later. “
If there is a way to bring down some of the bigger scenes with huge set pieces that would be good. I have no guidance for this one, but your take, to (COMPANY X), reads a little big for a $10 million movie. Maybe just tweak certain phrases or something and help bring down the cost – or what (COMPANY X) will perceive as the cost.
So I hope this isn’t too much. I really think all of this could be fixed pretty easily and nothing about the story really needs to be changed – except for one storyline. I would just like to see it tweaked for (COMPANY X) and have them make a formal bid on it.”
He was right, those notes are cake. At this point, I have no further emails related to the project, and it never materialized meaning we either never heard back or if we did it came as (COMPANY X went in a different direction). I still have the original documents that are roughly 15 pages of detailed plot synopsis, bullet points, and character bios.
The following is an email from a literary agent regarding another property we were asked to develop based on studio exec’s idea from reading an article. Roughly 15 pages of content including backstory, bullet points, themes, psychology, characters and the sales angle of a horror film. It isn’t just the document it is the hours of creative thinking and world building that you can’t quantify unless it is a material thing.
March 11, 2009:
“Just spoke to (POINT OF CONTACT). She thought the call was really fun and that you guys had a lot of great ideas. Here’s what I suggest. When you have your pitch ready, you guys should do the pitch live for her on the phone. In my opinion, it’s always more fun to hear a story than read it. Then after you’re done, we can get her the treatment to read and mull over.”
Six month’s later same horror movie project. September 15, 2009, which evolved into conference calls and remains unmade to this day.
“Just spoke with him! He really digs what you’ve done and will reach out directly to you both today to discuss further. He LOVED the set pieces and the world you’ve created.”
Comedy Central pitch, March 19, 2009: “They loved the concept….. Let’s give them a week to spread the treatment around and bring it up in their dev meeting, and I’ll follow up with them next week. Next step would then be a conf call to discuss if they want to take it further.”
This is actually a timely response and I appreciated that.
April 27, 2009: “Comedy Central finally got back to us last week and said they are going with a different approach – although they said they got a kick out of your treatment.”
I’m glad they were entertained, sadly, just not enough to bring the project to life.
In 2012 a global entertainment icon was looking for a take on their product merging with another global entertainment icon’s intellectual property for a film franchise. This one was going to be HUGE. A large-scale document was worked up. There were two phone calls. I have tons of respect for the people on this project and they handled it the best out of nearly everyone I have ever dealt with.
Thanks so much for all your enthusiasm and creative energy on this. I’ve really enjoyed our discussions, and been so grateful for your input. I know we said at the start that this was a process which would lead to us making a choice about who to go with for the full job – and that’s turned out to be a very difficult decision indeed.
In the end, we’ve decided to go with The Other Guy. We’ve talked a lot about the challenges in this project, particularly when it comes to humor – trying to find a distinctive (OUR CORPORATE) voice while still being authentic to the (OTHER CORPORATE ENTITY) – and it’s turned out, as we expected, to be bloody hard. The Other Guy just hit a couple of notes which really resonated well across the team here.
I do hope that’s not too annoying a let-down. We have tremendous respect for your expertise in this area.
If you would be good enough to send me a shipping address, I’d like at least to send you some tokens of our appreciation.”
The other guy did just fine and I’m happy for him or her or whoever. You are almost always in competition with someone else so you can’t take that stuff personally. I’m always happy for creatives getting high profile work even if I lose in a fair fight. It was disappointing I can admit that, but I also have a lot of respect for this company and the way they handled the situation. They were polite professionals. I can’t tell you how many times a deal falls apart and you find out when the other party stops responding to your calls and emails. Sometimes you find out in the Hollywood Reporter.
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