Founded in 1992, Smart Girls Productions and Melody Jackson have helped aspiring screenwriters gain notice in the industry, from pitch to prodco. Through the marketing services provided by Smart Girls, clients have gotten into nearly every top agency, production company, and studio in town, including Paramount Studios, HBO, Warner Bros., Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, and Fox Searchlight. In a new endeavor for the company, Smart Girls is embarking on a partnership with Final Draft, Inc.’s ScriptXpert service in the hopes of introducing more promising scriptwriters to major industry players.
SCRIPT: What is Smart Girls’ mission?
Melody Jackson: Our mission is to support screenwriters in moving the next step up in their careers by providing personalized professional marketing services, consultation, and industry training.
The biggest challenge for screenwriters is to get their scripts read by the right people. Smart Girls helps you identify a target list of appropriate producers, literary agents, and managers and then to get your pitch delivered to those people through screenplay query letters, email queries, genre labels, postcards, and pitching live. We work with you to create a hook in your written or verbal pitches and help you target the right people, and then we personally guide you through the ongoing marketing process.
Most companies who help writers market their scripts don’t work with you directly, so you often still feel alone in the process. We like to leverage your excitement with our expertise in marketing. Together, it can be a very successful, productive, and exciting relationship.
SCRIPT: What are you looking for in a script?
Melody Jackson: There are two things I look for in a script: First, I look to be affected emotionally; this is a right-brain response. To be good, a script has to engage me emotionally and pull me in.
The second thing I look for is from a left-brain view — what I call the three fundamental cornerstones: plot, character arc, and theme, and how well these three areas integrate with each other. For this aspect, I dig in, break down the script, and analyze it to see if it holds up structurally.
To appeal to broad audiences, a script must work on both sides — you must cause an emotional impact and the structure must be strong. Although the sides naturally complement each other, it’s important to distinguish these two sides to be able to give proper feedback on how to fix things that aren’t working and how to make the script better overall.
SCRIPT: Why did Smart Girls want to be a partner of ScriptXpert?
Melody Jackson: When Shelly [Mellott, Final Draft, Inc. VP of Events and Publications] approached me about being a part of the ScriptXpert program, I was thrilled. Everyone in the business knows that Script and Final Draft are top-caliber companies, and I’ve partnered with them in various ways over many years.
This partnership between ScriptXpert and Smart Girls is a fantastic way to give unknown writers with really strong screenplays a chance to be seen with minimal cost to them. Shelly’s team does the work of finding great scripts, and Smart Girls does the work of getting them out to the right people in Hollywood. I think that’s a great setup that will give a few new writers a break, so I said, “Let’s do it.”
SCRIPT: What’s the best advice you can give a writer from a storytelling perspective?
Melody Jackson: No question about it, it’s to learn to write authentically. To describe what that means, it’s easier to start with what it doesn’t mean. It’s not writing what you think you should write, but writing what you want to write. It’s not creating caricatures of people, but creating characters who seem real and selecting the real moments when their emotions are amplified — the good stuff of drama. It’s not writing from your left brain initially, but digging deep down into the solar plexus and gut, and writing from some unidentifiable place inside. After you pull the feeling out from there and onto the page, then you turn to the left brain to craft, refine, and polish it. This will give you access to the authenticity in your writing.
SCRIPT: What’s the best advice you can give a writer from a career perspective?
Melody Jackson: The first 50 percent of building a career is to always keep working on your craft to create a great product. Once you have your first script ready to go, the second 50 percent is always continuing to market your work and yourself as a writer.
Here’s another tip: Pick one or two genres of story to specialize in, for branding purposes. If you focus on one or two related genres, you’ll get better at writing those, and you’ll also get the benefit of branding. Writers think that being well versed in many types of writing is a great idea, but that’s not so these days. Specializing. Niche. Branding. In screenwriting and everywhere else. That’s where the juice is.
Finally, you also have to be willing to put yourself at risk in your marketing — at risk for being criticized and rejected. At risk in investing money in marketing — just like in any business. You put yourself at risk that someone will steal your work. Do what you can to offset whatever risks you’re concerned about, then go for it. Too many writers sit and worry about this, that, and the other instead of taking action. Go for it!
There, you got several bits of my best advice.
SCRIPT: How important are the technical aspects — formatting, good grammar, knowledge of industry standards — when you read a script?
Melody Jackson: These elements are a barrier to entry. That means if you do them wrong, you lose your chance; if you do them right, it only gets you onto the field, it doesn’t actually do anything for you. A couple of mistakes are not going to get you trashed, by the way; but reading a script with lots of errors is endlessly annoying and distracting.
The funny thing is that it’s not so much that I, or any other reader, cares about the grammar and formatting, but when I see so many errors it’s hard to concentrate on what I’m reading. If your formatting and grammar are off too much, it instantly suggests you’re not a professional. Hire a proofreader if you need to. Don’t freak about it, but learn grammar and formatting, have someone review your script for you, do it properly. Having too many mistakes in this area is inexcusable.
SCRIPT: A final word of advice to aspiring screenwriters everywhere?
Melody Jackson: Be willing to rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite. And if you do that and get your script to a very high quality, then be willing to market and pitch, pitch and market some more.
I’ve worked with a number of writers over the years, of whom I am so proud because they really did put in the work. I was very inspired by them, their work ethic, their coach-ability, their talent, and their passion. I know that if they keep marketing their work and pursuing their careers long enough, they will become working screenwriters and maybe even get the big million-dollar payday. But they will have to be persistent.
Always be improving your craft, creating more product, and marketing and pitching and getting your work out there.
SCRIPT: How will Smart Girls’ partnership with ScriptXpert benefit writers?
Melody Jackson: The greatest benefit is that if ScriptXpert thinks you have a great script, then Smart Girls Productions will help you target the right people and market your script to Hollywood to get it read. Having a “Recommend” from a top company like Final Draft, Inc. and utilizing the marketing expertise of Smart Girls Productions gives you a pathway to the contacts in Hollywood who could option or buy your script.
Smart Girls Productions, Script, and Final Draft are obviously in business because of writers (actually all of Hollywood is, for that matter)! With this partnership we’ve created, it’s a way for a few of the writers who have put the work in on their scripts to make them great. It’s also a great way for us to be able to give back to the writers we serve. Those who get recommended benefit from our mission!