Craig Van Sickle has written, produced and directed television in Hollywood going on 30 plus years. He’s written (with Steve Mitchell) over 40 TV pilot scripts and collaborated with George Lucas, Stephen King, George Clooney, Stephen J. Cannell, Vince Gilligan, to name but a few. Craig is a creator/showrunner whose series work includes Alien Nation, The Flash, The Pretender, 24, NCIS and the Emmy Award-winning Wizard of Oz reimagining, Tin Man. His latest venture is mentoring up-and-coming TV script writers via his website; scripTVisions.com – Twitter: @CraigVanSickle1, @scripTVisions
There’s an admittedly not-so-funny joke about a man who walks into a bank to cash a check. The teller asks him,Can you identify yourself? The man spots a mirror, looks into it and says, Yep – that’s me, alright.
I relate this tidbit because it reminds me of a hotly debated topic among novice script writers who’ve been investing their money in script feedback services and festival sites to get notes. That topic; many writers are kept in the dark about who is reading their material and giving them expert notes.
This growing issue not only spurred me on to write this article – it has also inspired me to build my own script mentoring website, scripTVisions.com.
In the past few years there has been a huge proliferation of script festivals, competitions and script reader options. There are, in fact, so many options that sites to manage these sites (Film Freeway, Scriptexpress) are also thriving. With such an influx of choices, why aren’t writers satisfied with the results? Why aren’t they ecstatic about the possibilities rewrite notes can offer or charged with a renewed optimism of their script being sold? The majority of frustrated writers who reach out to me are wary about the inconsistencies and inadequate script feedback they’re receiving. My first thought, as I try talking them off the ledge, is always the same: Who was the reader that gave you feedback and what are their industry credentials to qualify them as experts? Eight times out of ten these hand-wringing scribes admit to me they have no clue who is reading their work.
Hum let’s see – would you take medical advice from someone you couldn’t be sure was a doctor? Gamble your savings on a stock tip you got from a total stranger? Frequent a dating website that didn’t allow photos? Ridiculous, right? So why would you pay to get script notes from an anonymous reader?
Make no mistake, there are some honest professionals with tons of genuine experience that can help writers – mentors who are transparent about their credentials so writers like you can be certain their submissions are in professional hands. I’ve heard great things about Jen Grisanti, Ellen Sandler, Eric Bork, and Dave Trottier, to name a few. These mentors have nothing to hide.They tell you who they are, what their experience is and promise they alone will be reading your script. But what about the others?
What I hear from writers and glean from blogs is that a large number of these feedback sites and festivals seem to have devolved into little more than a chase for writer’s wallets. They feel that faceless site directors deliver less-than-professional reads because they are maximizing profits rather than your career by using readers with shallow resumes.These same disillusioned writers are frustrated by scoring logarithms so confusing, not even Neil deGrasse Tyson could break the code to get on top of elite lists, let alone stay there.
All of which has left writers wondering if their Hollywood dream is just a ponzi-scheme – false hopes fueled by nominal entry fees and revolving door revision note charges. A growing scam? At the very least, frustrated writers are wondering if the business of helping them break into The Business still has their best interests at heart.
Why is this devolution happening? William Goldman said it best in his classic All The President’s Men: Follow the money. And while I have no issue whatsoever with making a profit, is it too much to ask that these sites be transparent and upfront about who their professional readers are? Or should we sit back and say nothing, do nothing and watch writers flop in their own sweat and drown in their words? Of course not. We need their stories to be told! So…
Smart writers need to ask these questions BEFORE entering their credit card: Who specifically will be reading my material and giving notes on my work? Has my reader ever written or sold a script? Been in a writer’s room? Ever pitched to an industry professional? Had an agent or been a paid working member of the Hollywood creative community at a successful level? What, besides awarding a laurel, will they do for my script? And more importantly, how will their notes, feedback and mentorship get me into the paid column of show business as a working writer?
That is the goal isn’t it? And while it’s not an easy business to crack, I’m certain of one thing…
If a writer bets on a proven professional they will receive more than expert advice.They will get someone respectful of a proper introduction and proud to foster the next generation of storytellers with a writer’s best interest at heart. A transparent mentor with real experience that can inspire true writing growth, help build careers, potentially open real doors and fuel the reachable career goal of becoming a money-making screenwriter in Hollywood. And that is a solid 10 on anyone’s list!