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Friday, February 17, 2012

Guest Post: Erik Bork


This weekend, I’m attending the Southern California Writer's Conference in San Diego, so here is a Guest Post from an amazing writer-producer I met at SCWC last year.

Erik Bork is a professional screenwriter and producer best known for his work on the HBO miniseries BAND OF BROTHERS and FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON.

(Erik wrote multiple episodes, and won two Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards for helping to produce the above projects.)

Thanks, Erik, the floor is all yours:

When I work with writers giving feedback and guidance on their material and career paths -- which I do a lot of these days -- I am often asked for help with access to agents, managers, and producers (which I don't provide directly, but do give advice about).

Writers often tend to have questions about how important "who you know" is, and struggle with getting "the industry" to pay attention to them. Even professionals go through this. (I know I sometimes still do.)

After all, you can have the greatest script in the world, and if nobody in the industry will read it, because they don't know you, and you weren't referred to them by someone they trust, nothing will come of it, right?
Erik Bork

True enough. However, this statement misses one key part of the equation: the industry is desperately hungry for marketable material and writers. And it always is.

No matter how few paid writing jobs or script sales there might be compared to the number of people who would like to have them (and that will forever be an outrageous ratio), the fact remains that the "development" side of the business is always on the lookout for more "stuff they can sell".

How desperate are they?

I recently met a very legitimate, big time manager of working screenwriters at a writing conference, and asked him the best way for writers to "get access" to him, and others of his kind.

Here's what he said:

Send him an e-mail.

There are multiple sources where you can find e-mail addresses for managers (and agents, though they be a bit harder to get the attention of), as well as producers. The directories at www.hcdonline.com are one resource that I know of for this.

In the e-mail to an individual manager (or producer), this manager recommends that you provide the logline and genre of your script, and a paragraph or two synopsis of the story (not a tease, but a real synopsis).

Below that, you might include any important contests you've won, or other impressive writing background you might have -- though that is strictly optional.

He said he gets about 100 such query e-mails a week.

And he asks to read the script for about 80 of them.

That's right, 80 out of 100.

Another high-end manager I met at the same conference confirmed this process works, and said she also gets about 100 a week, but she only asks to read about 10 of the scripts. She's tougher on the loglines and synopses than he is.

But here's what they both agreed on: out of the ones they do read (or have people read for them), they have continuing interest in less than one script a week -- and maybe as few as a handful each year.

In other words, the script almost always fails to impress them as something they could do something with, in the business (or the writer as one they could "sell").

And so the big challenge -- and this is something I've always believed -- is not getting your material in front of the professionals who can help you. It's making sure that what you put in front of them will really impress them, when you do.

This is the hard part. And this is what is rare, highly valued, and highly sought after.

Of course, we all know this, on some level. But writers often seem to think that the "access issue" is at least 25%, or even 50%, of what determines whether a screenwriter gets their work sold and produced. And they put a lot of time and energy into trying to "crack the code" of getting their work to the right people in the right way.

But that's really not hard. It requires a little research and diligence (and a thick skin), but getting your logline and premise or synopsis in front of these people is fairly simple.

But delivering with a logline/synopsis (and ultimately a script) that they will think has a chance is a whole other thing.

I guess it depends on your viewpoint whether this is "good news" or "bad news." But I will tell you that it's what people inside the industry all tend to believe. They're not trying to keep out marketable writing and writers. They are just so bombarded by material that isn't marketable, in their view, that they have to put up somewhat of a wall, to allow them to focus on serving their existing clients -- which, trust me, is a very full-time job.

But these walls are not as solid as you might think. And they all want what you pitch and send to them to be something they think could sell, and get produced. They're really on your side in that. The tough part is creating such a thing. I know, because I grapple with this challenge myself, as a working writer, every day.

Thanks, Erik!

For more information, or to read his "Ten Key Principles Successful Writers Understand," please visit Erik's website here.


Sarah said...

Thanks for the great guest post! I didn't know you could simply contact those folks directly. It doesn't sound too terribly different from the publishing industry--getting a request is much easier than actually getting an agent, for the same reasons you cite.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Send him an email. So simple.
I think we often making it harder than it really is.
Mark, thanks for hosting Erik today!

Anne Gallagher said...

Thanks for this view. Sounds so easy, but for the dreaded synopsis. lol Funny, I do have a book I would so like to see turned into a movie. Now I have motivation to write the script! Another daunting task. Maybe next year.

writing and living by Richard P Hughes said...

Good info, although I have no plans to do screen writing.

Leigh Covington said...

*must bookmark*
Erik, it's nice to meet you. Your advice is wonderful and appreciated.

Great choice in a guest post Mark. Love it!

Nicole said...

Great guest post! Thanks to both Erik and Mark. It's interesting to see the similarities with the publishing world.

Morgan said...

Thanks Erik and Mark. You guys both rock.

I had the same experience querying. I never had any trouble getting my MS on an agent's desk. Very fun to see the parallels between these closely knit worlds :D

Lara Schiffbauer said...

Thanks for the reminder, Erik, that the ratio of wanting to be published to agents/editors/etc... has been, is, and will be huge, but that the people on the buying side do really want to find good stuff to sell to the masses. It isn't an adversarial relationship.

And thanks, Mark, for bringing us the interview!

Rossandra said...

Sorry, I'm sort of new at this, but I couldn't find anywhere to post a greeting from the campaign, the memoir group. So consider yourself fully greeted! (that doesn't sound right?)

Theresa Milstein said...

Thanks for introducing us to Erik Bork. I didn't know much about how this world worked. It does sound similar to book publishing.

Erik Bork said...

Thanks for all the kind words everybody! Please feel free to visit my site at www.flyingwrestler.com for other postings...

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