Submitting Material to Film And Television Companies

I often get calls from people who ask me if I will submit material for them. Typically, this is because someone at a studio or network has told them that material is accepted only through attorneys and agents.

The short answer: “No,” I don’t submit unsolicited material.

Perhaps, I should qualify this. Of course, I will send material on behalf of an existing client to someone who has requested it. I do this for my client’s protection as a means of creating a traceable paper trail that shows the recipient received the material through me, as a witness.

While studio executives don’t usually steal ideas from submissions they receive, other people along the way might be tempted. Receptionists, messengers, and assistants may read your script. They may be struggling writers or producers themselves. They may like your concept and characters, but think they can write it better. Especially if they are new to the business and ill-informed, they may not consider it stealing to rewrite a version of your script and call it their own.

For some reason, potential copyright thieves are less inclined to steal ideas from scripts submitted by an attorney or agent. Maybe it’s the fact that a responsible third party is tracking the submission and has a vested interest in protecting it.

What Kind Of Attorneys And Agents Are We Talking About?

Going back to the original statement: “we only accept submissions from attorneys and agents.” When a studio or network says they accept submissions only from agents and attorneys, they don’t usually mean just any ‘ole attorney or agent. They mean an attorney or agent they know.

Attorneys and agents build up reputations with studio and network executives by referring good material to them. “Good material” in the sense that it suits the particular executive’s taste and business sense. The attorneys and agents with such reputations protect them by being very careful what they refer and to whom.

For any attorney or agent to submit material from a stranger can be dangerous to their reputation. The material may be good, but is the writer someone who is easy to work with? Or, is the work plagiarized? For my own clients, I can answer these questions. For someone I don’t know, I can’t.

But What If You Don’t Have An Attorney Or Agent?

I always tell people that the best way to get a script to the right person without an agent or attorney (or even if you have an attorney and agent) is to network. And, you don’t need to hobnob with insiders for this to work.

Start with your family and close friends. Tell them you have a script and ask them if they know anyone in the business who might help get it made. If they don’t, then start asking co-workers and everyone else you meet until you get a contact.

It all starts with one contact. That first person will introduce you to people with contacts, who will introduce you to other people with contacts. Eventually, without too much effort, you have a network. Someone in that network will know the perfect person to help you get your movie made and bypass the “gatekeepers.”

When you do, and they ask to see your stuff, then go to an attorney to make sure you are protected before you expose material or commit to anything. There is much more information about networking, submissions, and protecting rights in the wonderful “What Every Filmmaker Needs to Know About the Law” DVD series available at the publisher’s website.

Start Where You Are

It doesn’t really matter where you are, although you will come in contact with a greater number of people in cities like Los Angeles or New York. If you can’t do it in person, you can do it by phone, e-mail, or social network sites on the Internet.

You’ll be surprised at who helps and where you will find that perfect contact.

I know one person from the Midwest who was struggling to get work in Los Angeles. One day, this person was complaining on the phone to their mother back in Podunk. The mother, who knew nothing about the business, said, “well, a guy I was friends with in college lives in Los Angeles. I’ll give him a call and see if he can help you.”

That small town mother’s college friend turned out to be a high-powered Hollywood producer who ended up helping my friend get a foot in the door and, eventually, a successful career.

Why hadn’t they ever spoken about it before? Because it never occurred to the mother and the child never asked.

One of the most exciting things about this business is that You Never Know.

© Keith E. Cooper. All rights reserved. You may freely link to this post, but please do not copy (in whole or in part) without permission of the copyright owner.

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8 Responses to “Submitting Material to Film And Television Companies”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Filmmaker Lawyer, Filmmaker Lawyer. Filmmaker Lawyer said: Information about submissions for #filmmakers #screenwriters http://bit.ly/9Xr25z […]

  2. Jordan says:

    What if the “no unsolicited material policy” is a discriminatory policy?

    As a reminder:

    Discrimination definition:

    Discrimination is a sociological term referring to the treatment taken toward or against a person of a certain group in consideration based solely on class or category. Discrimination is the actual behavior towards another group. It involves excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to other groups.

    If we consider that unagented writers/unsolicited writers are a category, and a (social) class, (most of the solicited writers already know someone in the film industry) isn’t this policy a discriminatory policy excluding this class and restricting them from the opportunity to sell their work as well?

    I do think so

    • Susan P. says:

      Interesting question Jordan but I think it stretching a bow.

      If you take category and extend the principle, then men are discriminated against because they aren’t women; twenty year olds are discriminated against because they don’t have the rights of twenty-one year olds, and so on.

      ‘Category’ generally refers to those areas listed in legislation e.g. race, sexual preference, age, disability, religion. This said, most laws allow for caveats e.g. indigenous organisations specifically wishing to employ indigenous people.

      If you’re also equating social class with those networked into the industry; how do you account for those who either have that but still haven’t had a work produced, or, those who have had one success e.g. a noted television series, and now are battling to get script consultancy clients.

      How about those who had no network but arrived at a funky, savvy and/or brilliant idea that was simple in it’s execution but trapped imaginations… and bada bing, they were movin’ on up.

      Look for discrimination and ye shall find..:) however, if there is a case of discrimination, normally there’s a remedy. What would that be? That anyone and everyone could submit to whomever they liked, when they liked?

      Would you deny individual writers, producers, directors, editors, cinematographers et al the right to say no to someone wanting to access them?

      Let me ask you Jordan. You never say ‘no’ to people who say want you to review their scripts? You always say yes, no matter what? If the answer is ‘yes’, then you’re not writing (I’ll risk presuming you’re a writer given your posts focus) or just very frustrated with the system and not getting ‘in’.

      If you do say ‘no’ then, are you discriminating unfairly?

      I must be because I say no to people; sometimes simply because their approach is ill mannered and commanding. Or, I see they do nothing to help anyone and ‘itsallaboutthem’. I think those decisions absolutely fine and so is the right for a large agency (or anyone) to do likewise.

      The remedy for YOU is to be more creative in how you work to get in.

  3. Joseph M says:

    You never know. How true a statement. Being a big fan of probability however, I would recommend hunting down the right attorney/agent and operate in the You never know. With both those combinations working. Whew! odds are in your favor. Bye for now.

  4. Jennifer N says:

    Thanks Keith for the article. As an (American) indie filmmaker living outside of the US my best bet is the networking option as well, which is effective and has lead me to opportunities all over Europe. I agree with Susan about sincerity and kindness, as well as being honest about who you are and what your capabilities and goals are.
    Currently, I make my own films with artists and technicians I trust and respect (i.e. people I know or friends of theirs that come recommended). In other words… every great gig I’ve gotten I’ve either created for myself or was offered it/recommended for it by someone who already knew and trusted me. Nepotism, ladies and gentlemen, is the word of the day. This is true in almost every industry, not just the entertainment industry. Instead of letting it get you down… get outside (or get online) and meet some people and start talking about what you do and what you want to do. It’s amazing what a little bit of communication can create.

  5. Dorian S says:

    I definitely agree with Jennifer. I’m in the States, but let’s be real, we don’t all have nothing but free time or unending resources to attend every trade show or networking event for the entertainment industry. You could literally spend all your time on the road. I LOVE things like LinkedIn…it helped me to connect with people who I would have otherwise not been able to talk to. Nothing beats a face to face interaction, but the Internet has definitely helped to narrow the gap for forward thinking/progressive/perseverant people who want to make those same connections.

  6. Steven S says:

    Networking is, absolutely, essential to breaking into the business. The idea that it’s “who you know” is true, but the idea that you will never know anyone is false. Unless you were born into the industry, everyone builds their own circle of “who you know”.

    Theft of scripts by studio executives is extremely rare. It gets played up so much in the press that everyone who isn’t in the business thinks of Hollywood as a den of thieves and overreacts. But you HAVE to show your material. Worrying about the studio exec and the receptionist, mailroom person, or other people in the process are not going to get you anywhere. They aren’t any more disposed to stealing your ideas than they are if you have an attorney or agent. What the agency or attorney gives the studio is a reputation they can trust; a validation for you and your material. This doesn’t really apply to the people in the process.

    But back to the point: you have to show your script to people long before you need the services of an attorney. Just to create the network trail, someone has to vouch for you and your work. Even if Aunt Mabel has a friend who knows someone who has a cousin in the industry, people are going to have to you’re your material before they put their reputation on the line for you. So unless that cousin is in the position to say “greenlight” for production, you’re talking about a lot of people. In fact, to get people online to take you seriously as a writer requires more than just talking about it. People need to read your material.

    So what do you do? Register your copyright, keep track of everywhere you send it and everyone who reads it. If there is a problem later on and you want to pursue legal issues, THEN approach an attorney about it with your registration and all the evidence you have maintained.

    However, when you get to someone who wants to talk contracts, yes, an attorney or agent is mandatory. The bad news is that it’s hard to get an agent/attorney as a nobody. The good news is that if you are to the point to talking contracts (re: money), then agents/attorneys will be much more likely to talk to you.

    Many films are being made independently all over the country. That’s a good thing. And there are a lot more festivals and competitions, which is a mixed bag. But there is a definite difference in the business in regards to Independents and “Hollywood”. You can write and produce your own film locally, or get a local company interested in producing your screenplay. But when it comes to Hollywood, it’s still near impossible. Not impossible, but, again, not easy by a long shot.

    I disagree with the idea that “it doesn’t really matter where you are”. It is true that the internet and forums have opened up the business. But keep in mind that it has hardly made it easy. Yes, more connections can be made with people in the business, but that also means that there are more barbarians at the gate; you still have to find a way to stand out and get them to open the gate. Living in Los Angeles, for example, doesn’t just make it marginally better. It increases your chances a thousandfold. Whereas most people in the country make their Hollywood connections on the internet, I just have to go to the park. Or the gym. Or anywhere. Los Angeles IS the business; you couldn’t get away from networking if you wanted to. In a business where the slightest advantage can mean everything, this is huge.

    Not everyone can move to L.A., so what you do is exactly what is stated in the article; you begin to research your connections. Make sure all family, friends and associates know what you want to do and ask if they know anyone who might be of some help. Get involved online with people in the business. Get involved locally with film production or screenwriting groups.

    Understand what you are up against and then go for it.

    Good article.

  7. Susan P says:

    Hi Steve…moving from film to tv series…would you agree that quite often you are selling concept and not scripts? Or, concept with decent back up bible and script sample? I ask because the discussion has tended to revolve around feature film scripts (of course :)) and I am wondering if your take would be any different on concept/bible. I presume not as you copyright etc just the same, although if the idea is not clearly articulated, it could fall into a problem area.

    Is it hard to find an entertainment attorney in the US? Agent issues I know about – and they exist everywhere – but, people can’t easily just contact a suitable attorney and ask for contract review etc? Given one can afford to pay of course.

    What I see a great deal are people trying to avoid seeing an attorney – which I generally think inadvisable but that’s to do with resistance and budget as opposed to attorney’s not being accessible.