Writers on the Verge: What Is Old SHOULD NOT Be New Again

Lee Jessup is a seasoned career coach for screenwriters, with an exclusive focus on guiding and supporting screenwriters as they parlay their screenwriting prowess into a focused and dynamic screenwriting career. Follow Lee on Twitter @leezjessup

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Recently, a writer contacted me seeking some guidance. He sent a screenplay into the industry – all the major agencies, management and production companies in 2005, but despite some initial interest, could not get any real traction for the script. He felt so dejected, he had not written anything new since. Now, eight years later, he wanted my advice: What did I think about changing the title of the script, and getting it back out there?

whats old is new againThe argument he made was simple: The old players are likely gone. Couldn’t new players mean new interest? Old players may be gone, I tried to explain, but the one thing that remains in the modern age is the all powerful coverage file, which, in the new millennium, and whether it is hosted in an Excel spreadsheet or a native app, every single production and representation company has.

Any time your script goes into an industry company, it is logged in the coverage file. Your first name, last name, title of the screenplay. Depending on the platform, the coverage file may include just the logline of your script, or as much as an entire synopsis. And it will have, every time, the recommendation that your script received within the company: Pass, consider, recommend. From here on out, every time you send new material into this company, it will be checked against the coverage file. So even if you changed the title of the script, unless the plot and “world” was changed aggressively, the new player should be able to easily assess whether you’re sending an old script under a new title, or entirely new work. If you are sending in an old script with a new title, under the pretense of sending in a brand new script, not only will the company reject the material (unless the logline is somehow exactly what they are looking for, why would they spend resources covering a screenplay they already rejected?), it is likely that they won’t be interested in seeing new material moving forward.

When time is limited and material plentiful, no one likes being trifled with.

If you are a writer looking to get new mileage out of an old script, the good old coverage file is not your only challenge here: These days, both reps and executives are looking to work with writers who are capable of building careers. Considering that a total of 132 specs sold in the industry last year, they are not banking on you being able to sell your very first script. Instead, they are looking at your undiscovered script as a strong writing sample, the foundation on which you will establish your name, build strong relationships and create exciting creative opportunities. This doesn’t mean that it won’t one day sell; I work with countless professional writers whose older scripts are constantly revisited by reps and production companies. But as an aspiring screenwriting (which, so long as you haven’t broken, the industry assumes you to be), you are expected to continue to produce new content at a somewhat regular clip. Therefore, if industry folks get wind of the fact that you’re peddling an old script, they will naturally develop a concern that either you have a single story to tell or are not apt at developing new ideas. Neither of which would bode well for you or your script.

But what if, in addition to all of your new stellar scripts, you do have that one, that unforgettable, superior script, that you are certain didn’t get the fair shake it deserved? Screenwriting contests are the one place where old material can thrive without any prejudice. Enter your passion project into a handful of high visibility contests, those which, with a finalist placement or a contest win, are sure to attract new attention to old material. Even if you didn’t get the dues the screenplay deserved back then, a big contest win could give your old script that much-needed, entirely credible second wind.

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